Did you know that next to the skin, the liver is the second largest organ in your dog's body? A proper liver is crucial for your dog's health. However, because the liver still can function normally despite 70 % of it diseased or damaged, the first indications of liver failure in dogs often go missed. Unfortunately within my clinical experience, a lot of dogs with liver failure aren't taken to the veterinarian until it's past too far.

The most difficult a part of noticing early indications of liver failure in dogs is they do not point straight to the liver. The liver does a lot of things. Some of its jobs include making proteins, detoxifying the blood, making clotting factors, storing multiple minerals and vitamins and aiding digestion, which is why the first signs often are missed, ignored or attributed to other causes.

Common Signs of Dog Liver Disease

Physical Signs

One of the most common signs with early dog liver disease is problems with this enzymatic tract. A malfunctioning liver can produce a dog feel nauseous and vomit or stop eating, or it may contribute to diarrhea. If your dog is slimming down and you didn't put him on a diet, then that's another clue that something might not be right under the hood. Liver dysfunction may also cause a dog to feel thirsty, even though excessive urinating and drinking commonly are associated with kidney disease or diabetes.

Not all indications of liver disease take presctiption within your pet. Among the liver's biggest jobs is to make proteins, and also the biggest protein consumers in the body are the hair and skin. If the body senses that the liver isn't checking up on the protein demand, then the body will selectively shift all of the proteins being made to the vital organs – gut, heart and brain – and give less towards the skin and hair. This could lead to abnormal looking skin and hair. You might notice hair that grows slow or fails to regrow after the dog is shaved, brittle hair, dandruff or hair thinning when there is a problem with the liver.

Behavioral Signs

Liver disease in dogs may cause behavioral changes, such as lethargy, irritability or depression. Despite the fact that those behavioral changes could be due to chronic pain from arthritis, doggy dementia or hormonal disorders, it also can be brought on by liver disease.

Puppies could be born having a blood vessel genetic defect that affects the flow of blood to the liver. It's called a portosystemic shunt, which can result in a low birth weight, failure to thrive or perhaps a bizarre “head-pressing” behavior after eating.

Annual Exams to Determine Dog Liver Disease

Because signs of liver failure in dogs can be missed so easily, it is recommended have your dog monitored annually with a physical exam and routine bloodwork. One of the best ways to monitor your dog's liver health would be to have his blood tested once or twice annually. When liver cells are damaged, they secrete an ingredient called alanine aminotransferase, ALT for brief, in to the blood. The more severe the harm, the larger the ALT levels increase in the blood, which changes is visible on routine lab work.

If elevated ALT is noted, your veterinarian will make treatment recommendations for you. These may range from starting a liver protectant supplement and rechecking the ALT levels after a specified in time otherwise apparently healthy animals, to recommending further testing in dogs that have additional indications of liver disease, for example jaundice, weight reduction, lack of appetite, a sizable liver or vomiting.

The final point here is, in case your dog has any of the above signs, then ask your veterinarian to run a blood chemistry panel. And when your dog is older than 5, have his bloodwork checked annually during his wellness visit. If everything comes back normal, then you get peace of mind from normal blood work results. This, in my opinion, is worth the weight in gold.