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Liver Failure In Dogs – Symptoms & Causes

Liver Failure In Dogs

What Is Liver Failure In Dogs?

What are the vital organs in humans or just ask about dogs?

You’ll get the customary answer: Heart, Kidney, Brain, Lungs, but for some reason, we tend to forget the liver. It may not look attractive, much like —a rubbery, muddy, reddish-brown colored, cone or wedge-shaped organ sitting stock-still in the abdomen— don't let yourself be fooled; the liver is as crucial to be alive as an organ can be.

The liver carries out more than 500 tasks and it is a multi-purpose organ classified as a gland. It’s too big a subject to state all its functions here but simply, its functions can be stated as detoxification and metabolism, digestion, filtration, protein synthesis, and storage of minerals and vitamins.

What are the causes for the failure of the only organ in the dog’s body that can regenerate itself?

The cause of Liver failure is two types, known as acute and chronic. Acute liver failure comes on suddenly with rapid deterioration of liver function. One of the most common reasons for acute liver failure is poisoning. Chronic liver disease is often the result of cirrhosis and it is a progressive deterioration of the functions of the liver. This can be caused by ongoing conditions like autoimmune diseases, diabetes, or cancer.

Symptoms Of Liver Failure In Dogs

Acute Liver Failure Symptoms:

  • Jaundice - yellowing of your skin and eyeballs.
  • Discomfort or pain in your upper right abdomen.
  • Ascites (Abdominal Swelling)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting blood/blood in stool
  • Confusion or Disorientation
  • Sleepiness

Chronic Liver Failure Symptoms:

  • Jaundice (a yellow tinge visible in the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes).
  • Ascites - abdominal swelling due to fluid buildup.
  • Vomiting blood
  • Stomach ulceration
  • Itching
  • Polydipsia/polyuria
  • Kidney failure
  • Weight loss/ Muscle loss
  • Loss of appetite

Treatment Options For Liver Failure In Dogs

The specific treatment depends on the underlying cause of the liver failure. A definitive diagnosis can be done by taking a liver biopsy to determine the type and severity of the liver disease.

  • Immediate hospitalization and close monitoring are required for acute liver failure, if not treated immediately, will cause death.
  • Intravenous fluid and nutritional therapy will be given to help your dog not become severely dehydrated.
  • Immunosuppressive or anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Anti-diarrhea medications.
  • A broad-spectrum antibiotic for any secondary bacterial infections from occurring.
  • Chronic liver failure in dogs- treatment protocol focuses on slowing the disease progression, and severity and improving the quality of life for the pet.
  • Surgery may be required to treat some causes of liver failure, such as vascular anomalies, cancer, or cysts.
  • Congenital abnormalities such as enzyme and protein abnormalities need long-term medications.

Home Remedies For Liver Failure In Dogs

The pet's prognosis for recovery will be based on the diagnosis made by a veterinarian. Complete recovery depends on identifying and eliminating the cause of acute liver failure. Some conditions are treatable. Others will need to be managed with long-term medication that may cause significant side effects.

Check with your vet for foods (Hepato - Protectants) designed specifically for dogs with liver problems. Experienced pet owners may recommend a homemade diet. Antioxidants, SAMe, artichoke extract, milk thistle, vitamin E, Zinc, and other supplements can also be provided to support liver function.

How To Prevent Liver Failure In Dogs?

Keep dogs away from household chemicals such as antifreeze and other cleaners.

Vaccination against infectious diseases (like leptospirosis) can prove highly effective to prevent acute liver failure.

Don’t skip monthly vet visits and check for metabolic diseases.

Dogs can easily poke their nose through plastic bottles and ensure bottles are kept up high or in locked cabinets where dogs cannot reach them.

Keep prescription and OTC drugs, like ibuprofen out of reach of dogs.

Check for undesirable physical, chemical, or microbiological material in the water supply or in any contamination in nearby water sources.

Discuss with your vet your dog’s dental hygiene.

Affected Dog Breeds Of Liver Failure

Bedlington Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Doberman Pinscher, Skye Terrier, Standard Poodle, Springer Spaniel, Chihuahua, Maltese, West Highland White Terrier

Causes And Diagnosis For Liver Failure In Dogs

Causes Of Acute Liver Failure:

  • Drugs - Acetaminophenoverdose, amiodarone, diazepam, methotrexate.
  • Chemicals (Arsenic, carbon tetrachloride, selenium, heavy metals, etc).
  • Infections:
  1. Viral: (Canine adenovirus 1 and herpes simplex virus).
  2. Bacterial: Leptospirosis, Salmonellosis.
  3. Protozoal: Taxoplasma spp, Neospora spp.
  4. Fungal: Histoplasma Spp.
  5. Parasitic: Dirofiliariasis, Trematodes.
  • Environment: Poisonous wild mushrooms, aflatoxins, blue-green algae toxins.
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis.
  • Ischemic: Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, Septic shock.

Causes Of Chronic Liver Failure:

  • Cancer of the liver.
  • Endocrine diseases: Diabetes, Cushing's Disease, Hyperthyroidism.
  • Canine hepatitis, Cholangiohepatitis.
  • Liver Cysts.
  • Congenital abnormalities - Hepatic amyloidosis, glycogen storage disease, liver shunt.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals.
  • Blocked or damaged tubes.
  • Accidents/injuries.
  • Episodes of heart failure.
  • Hypercholesterolemia.


One of the common causes of morbidity and mortality in dogs is liver failure.

Liver diseases can be broadly classified into parenchymal diseases such as (hepatic steatosis, fibrosis, primary hepatitis, etc) and vascular abnormalities such as congenital portosystemic shunt (CPSS).

The clinical distinction between acute liver failure (ALF) and acute liver disease (ALD). ALD is defined as the absence of known preexisting liver disease and sudden liver dysfunction, meanwhile, ALF includes the above parameters and the presence of coagulopathy as well as encephalopathy.

Acute liver failure happens if over 70% of the hepatocellular mass is diminished so that there is inadequate hepatic parenchyma to continue excretory and synthetic homeostasis. The clinical manifestations of ALF are due to the reduction of hepatic function.


  • Urinalysis and bloodwork
  • Serum biochemistry profile
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound, CT scan


Almost 75% of liver cells must fail for the liver failure signs to be apparent. The prognosis is poor for liver cirrhosis. The damage caused by most acute liver failures can be reversible. However, acute liver failure can be deadly as within 5 to 7 days after the onset of clinical signs, the dog may die.


Chronic liver failure can be managed with consistent veterinary care. Many instances of acute liver failure can be reversed depending on the cause and with prompt treatment.

The stage or severity of the disease determines the prognosis.

When your dog progresses through every stage of liver failure, survival time gets reduced.

When To See A Vet For Liver Failure In Dogs?

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  • Yellow, jaundiced look to skin, gums, and ears
  • Vomiting blood/blood in stool
  • Swollen lymph nodes, neck, belly, and head

When you see visible signs of liver disease in your dogs, it’s clear that the condition has progressed to a developed stage.

Food Suggestions For Liver Failure In Dogs

A liver regeneration diet should include:

  1. Add lots of veggies (green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, especially).
  2. Protein- Lean chicken or turkey breast, lean beef, and Cooked fish (salmon, tuna).
  3. Vitamin C foods – strawberries, citrus fruits, potatoes, tomatoes.
  4. Antioxidants – Blueberries, Cauliflower, Beets, Beans, etc.,
  5. Flavonoids- blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, eggplant, etc.,
  6. Beta carotene foods- orange, yellow, and green leafy vegetables and fruits(such as tomatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, etc).

Foods to avoid:

  1. Avoid dairy products.
  2. No fried, ultra-processed, Hard, or jagged foods (such as Crunchy crackers, chips, etc).
  3. Hard to digest grains and greasy foods.
  4. White bread, rice, and pasta.
  5. Aerated/fizzy drinks, fruit juices, and Fatty/Fast Food Items.


Liver failure in dogs, whether acute or chronic, that goes untreated is deadly. If you suspect your dog has Liver failure, never try to self-diagnose and treat the condition at home.

After being diagnosed with liver failure, it’s possible for pets to enjoy a good quality of life for years. Strictly follow the veterinarian's recommendations of any therapeutic diet or nutritional supplements to manage the condition.

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