Causes and Symptoms Of Liver Disease in Dogs

dog looking at camera with head tilted


The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It is responsible for making life-essential items within the body, like clotting factors and sugars, and filtering the blood of toxic substances that the body gets exposed to—to name only a few.

common Causes of liver disease in dogs

  1. Infectious Diseases – Bacteria, parasites, and viruses can cause damage to the liver in dogs. Where you live will determine which of these might be the cause of the liver disease in your dog.
  2. Traumatic Injury – Blunt trauma from road traffic accidents are the most common cause of traumatic liver disease in dogs.
  3. Metabolic Disease – The liver is responsible for balancing a number of important substances in the body. Some, such as copper, can accumulate due to problems with the liver function or other metabolic abnormalities. This will then lead to liver damage.
  4. Immune Mediated Disease – In some dogs, the immune system incorrectly attacks the liver and causes damage. The exact reason why this happens is often not known, but we need to look for underlying treatable causes before starting treatment for this disease.
  5. Cancers – The liver is a common place for cancer to spread from elsewhere. It can also originate in the liver.
  6. Toxins and Drugs – The liver is responsible for metabolizing many of the medications we use. Some of these medications can result in damage to the liver with long or inappropriate use. Toxic substances that dogs inappropriately eat can also cause damage to the liver.

Common Symptoms Of liver disease In Dogs

Liver disease symptoms in dogs can be very subtle and range greatly depending on the severity of the disease. The most common symptoms of liver disease in dogs are:

  1. Not Eating – Toxins and hormones from the body that are normally filtered by the liver can be responsible for a decrease in appetite.
  2. Yellowing of the Skin and Urine – This results when there is a problem with the bile duct system or the homeostasis of bilirubin.
  3. Swelling of the Belly – The liver is responsible for making albumin, which is a protein found in the blood. With liver failure, the production of this protein decreases. This results in a decrease in the ability to keep fluid in the blood vessels. The area around the organs of the abdomen and the chest are the common spots where the fluid leaks into. You can also see swelling of the limbs.
  4. Drinking and Peeing More – The liver is responsible for a number of substances that control the body’s water balance. As liver disease progresses in dogs, these fail to be made or are not filtered and result in excessive drinking and peeing.
  5. Vomiting – This can be a result of stimulation of the vomiting centre in the brain from toxin build up, ulcers of the stomach due to increased hormones in the body from decreased liver function, or inflammatory bowel disease that might be occurring at the same time as the liver disease.
  6. Seizures – These are sometimes seen as a symptom of severe liver disease in dogs and is a result of toxins building up from decreased liver function. These toxins then affect the brain, causing seizures.

If you think your dog has symptoms of liver disease, please callyour veterinariannow. The sooner they receive help, the sooner they will feel better.

Yours in health,

Dr. Kent Morley