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What Are the Signs of Liver Problems in Dogs?

Common signs of liver problems in dogs

Can You Spot the Signs of Liver Problems in Dogs?

As a dog parent, you may have been warned against typical canine health problems such as dental disease, skin infections, and canine ear infections. However, many other ‘less visible’ conditions such as liver disease can be challenging to recognize. 

Liver problems in dogs are pretty common and have been listed as the fifth leading cause of death for dogs. But as long as you pay attention to your pet’s needs and behavior, you won’t need to worry. With early detection and prompt treatment, you can protect your pup’s health and ensure they live a long and comfortable life.

What Is Liver Disease?

Liver disease is an umbrella term used for liver problems that affect the liver and cause damage or inflammation. Liver problems in dogs can occur if they have an untreated liver issue or other underlying health conditions, and if liver disease is left untreated, it can lead to  serious health consequences. 

Nevertheless, with the guidance of your vet, preventative treatments and measures can allow your dog to live a long and healthy life. 

Common Types of Liver Problems in Dogs

Hepatitis: Hepatitis can be long-term (chronic) or short-term (acute) liver inflammation. There may be a number of causes for the disease, such as exposure to toxins or poisons, ingestion of specific medications, viruses, fungal infections, or bacterial diseases. 

Hepatitis is actually a symptom that arises secondary to other health issues in your dog’s body. Leptospirosis is a condition that occurs through the urine of different animals, while infectious canine hepatitis is contracted through the dog urine, feces, or saliva. Most dog owners can rest assured since it is likely that their pup has been vaccinated against Hepatitis and Leptospirosis during their Leptospirosis /Distemper vaccine series.

Hepatic neoplasia: Hepatic neoplasia, also called liver cancer, can be metastatic (originating from another area of the body) or starting in the liver. Many kinds of liver cancer can affect dogs, and hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common one. Tumors from hepatic neoplasia can either be benign or malignant, and depending on the type, could range from harmless to life-threatening.

small dog with liver disease

Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a critical stage of liver disease that is caused by chronic hepatitis. In this condition, the liver’s normal tissue must be replaced by scar tissue to function.

Fulminant hepatic liver failure: Fulminant hepatic liver failure is a type of condition that relates to the sudden loss of liver function. Your pet dog may have to spend some time in the hospital for treatment for the liver to heal fully.

Copper storage disease: In this condition, a large amount of copper accumulates in the liver, and it becomes unable to get rid of most of it from the body. This liver problem can occur if a dog has a genetic anomaly and a diet with high copper content. 

A specific breed of dog called Bedlington Terriers has a genetic vulnerability to this condition, and Dobermans and Labrador retrievers are susceptible as well.  


Hepatic lipidosis: Hepatic lipidosis is called fatty liver disease. This disease is caused by a high amount of lipids (fat cells) in the liver, preventing it from functioning properly. Hepatic lipidosis is more common and more dangerous in cats, but can occur in small or toy breed dogs.

Portosystemic shunt (PSS): A liver shunt or portosystemic shunt is when a dog’s blood from the veins in their spleen, intestines, stomach, and pancreas bypasses its normal route through their liver. The dog’s body begins to collect toxins as the liver cannot filter the blood. It is a condition that can present in a dog’s body since birth or be acquired later due to several complex issues such as hypertension or cirrhosis. If PSS goes untreated, it can cause hepatic encephalopathy or acute liver failure.

Hepatic encephalopathy is a condition that occurs due to prior liver problems when toxins accumulate in the blood and reach the central nervous system. This buildup of toxins in the nervous system can cause neurological problems. Nevertheless, PSS is reversible after the toxins from your dog’s body have been eliminated from the blood.

What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease?

The liver is a multi-purpose organ and has several functions. It detoxifies the bloodstream, breaks down drugs, metabolizes energy, produces bile acids necessary for digestion, stores vitamins and glycogen, and builds proteins necessary for blood clotting. Since the liver plays many roles in your dog’s bodily functions, liver problems in dogs can manifest in various ways. 

Liver disease in dogs can also affect other body systems and organs, which is why you need to keep a close eye on your dog for signs or symptoms.

  • Jaundice: A common sign of liver problems in dogs is jaundice.

    Jaundice manifests as a yellowish tinge to the skin, most easily noticed in your dog’s gums, ears, and eyes. Your dog’s liver is responsible for excreting bilirubin, which is a by-product of the red blood cell breakdown.

    In the case your dog’s liver isn’t functioning as it should be, the bilirubin builds up in the blood and gives your dog’s body a yellowish tinge.

  • Hepatic Encephalopathy: Hepatic encephalopathy is another common sign of liver disease. Hepatic encephalopathy refers to neurologic signs that manifest in pets with liver diseases, such as disorientation, depression, seizures, blindness, head pressing, or personality changes.

Some other common signs of liver problems in dogs include:

  • Vomiting and Diarrhea

  • Weight Loss

  • Lethargy or Weakness

  • Increased Thirst

  • Increased Urination

  • Dark Urine

  • Changes in Stool Color

  • Decreased Appetite

  • Ascites (fluid retention in the abdomen)

If you notice any or a few of these symptoms in your dog, you should consult your vet as soon as possible. Your vet can suggest diagnostic tests to evaluate your dog’s liver function and determine the cause of these problems. Some standard tests a vet might prescribe are x-rays, urinalysis, abdominal ultrasounds, and blood tests.

What Are the Causes of Liver Problems in Dogs?

Some of the most common causes of liver problems in dogs include:

1. Congenital Liver Disease

Just like larger dogs are at a higher risk of arthritis, hip dysplasia and bloat, some breeds are genetically predisposed to liver problems. Liver diseases can occur due to genetics in dogs and can impact them in the early or later stages of life. The most common congenital liver disease in dogs is portosystemic shunt (PSS). This can cause major problems since the toxins in the bloodstream may not be properly removed. 

2. Infectious Liver Disease

Infectious liver diseases are brought on by viral, fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infections that make their way into your pet dog’s body. 

These liver problems can cause your liver to swell and leave it unable to perform its normal functions. The most common infectious liver diseases in dogs are:

  • Leptospirosis

  • Tyzzer Disease

  • Canine Herpesvirus

  • Canine Hepatitis

  • Histoplasmosis

  • Coccidioidomycosis

Sad dog

3. Drug-Induced Liver Problems

The same way that human medicine sometimes comes with side effects, some medicines for dogs can have adverse effects on your dog’s health. Many dog owners are unaware that treatments like anabolic steroids, tetracycline, and acetaminophen have been known to impact liver enzyme levels.

If your pet pup has been prescribed a new medication, it is important to speak to your vet and discuss any possible side effects it may have, especially if your dog has a history of liver problems. Consider also natural and holistic treatments that may be safer for your dog vs traditional drugs. These can be just as effective, but with less side-effects.

How to Protect Your Pet


Health problems can often overwhelm first-time or even long-term dog owners. It is important to note that with early intervention and consultation with vets, you can reduce the risk of your furry friend developing or suffering from liver problems.

Although all cases of liver disease in dogs cannot be prevented, you can take certain precautions to minimize the risk of specific problems. Ensure that your dogs are vaccinated against infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis (for some dogs). It is also essential to keep your dog away from toxins and keep the symptoms of liver disease in mind. 

Early intervention is vital, and you should never hesitate to contact your vet to share your worries about potential symptoms and signs. Look into giving your dog a liver detox every 6 - 12 months is a good idea. If you determine that your dog has the beginning of liver disease try using a natural remedy such as the Hepatic Liver Support for Dogs to help support healthy liver function and slow down the deterioration of the liver. 

Wrapping Up!

As a dog parent, knowing the indications of liver disease can help you understand when you need to seek treatment or medical care. Learning all you can about liver issues and care is important for recognizing and addressing problems early on, and to ensure your dog remains healthy and happy for a long time.

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