What To Expect With Liver Problems in Old Dogs
DISCLAIMER: I'm not a vet and I have no veterinary or medical background whatsoever. This information on liver disease in dogs is not meant as a substitute or replacement for veterinary advice. It's meant for educational and informational purposes only, as a starting point for discussing the diagnosis and treatment of canine liver disease with a qualified vet.
What Causes Liver Problems?
- Consumption of toxic or poisonous substances;
- Infection or inflammation;
- Trauma, such as being hit by a car;
- Secondary damage, such as from certain types of medications, or disease in a surrounding organ;
- Liver shunt;
- Bile-duct obstruction;
Symptoms of liver disease can look very much like symptoms for other medical conditions. That's why it's important to get your dog to a vet so that he can be assessed.
- Increased drinking and urination.
- Decreased interest in eating, and subsequent weight loss.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Distended abdomen because of an enlargement of the liver.
- Behavior changes, including lethargy or lack of interest in his usual activities. Behavior changes may be due to pain as well, or in advanced stages of liver disease, hepatic encephalopathy.
- Softer stool or a change in color in the stool (will appear to be orange).
- Jaundice, which is a yellow discoloration in the blood and tissues in the body. Jaundice is most commonly seen in dogs in the white parts of the eyes or in the gums. In light-skinned dogs, it may be seen in the ears.
- Wobbliness or unsteadiness.
Diagnosing Liver Disease
A number of tests can be performed to verify the existence of liver disease as well as help to determine its severity.
- Blood tests can check for elevated levels in liver enzymes.A bile acids test (also a blood test) checks the function of the liver, and is more specific than general bloodwork.
- An ultrasound allows the vet to view the liver on the ultrasound image, giving the vet a better idea of the scope or extent of the liver disease. An ultrasound can also help the vet identify a bile-duct obstruction, if one exists.
- A fine needle aspirate is when the vet uses a needle to take a sample of cells from the liver. The cells can then be examined under a microscope. With this type of test, however, it might turn out that the sample taken doesn't actually show a good representation of the liver since only a small sample is taken. In other words, it may not provide enough information.
- An ultrasound-guided biopsy is when the vet inserts a large needle into the liver to withdraw a sample of cells. The ultrasound allows the vet to see and choose the sample of the liver they wish to take and send away for biopsy (unlike with the fine-needle aspirate). Usually a short anesthetic must be given.
- A surgical biopsy can be difficult for dogs with liver disease, especially old dogs. Dogs must be placed under anesthetic (many dogs with liver disease have a hard time recovering from the anesthetic). The veterinary surgeon opens up the dog to look at his liver and removes a sample of the liver, which is then sent off for biopsy. This is the most accurate test but recovery can be hard on the dog.
Management and Prognosismilk thistle, or drugs. Don't give your dog any supplements or drugs without first discussing it with the veterinarian.
Liver problems in old dogs is not an automatic death sentence. Here is a personal account of managing liver disease in my own senior dog. There you will read about my dog's journey with liver disease, one in which he was able to overcome and enjoy another 18 quality months with us. If you suspect that something's wrong with your senior dog, bring him to the vet right away and get him diagnosed. If it indeed liver disease, early diagnosis and treatment will give your dog the best opportunity to continue to lead a happy life.