Liver disease in dogs

The liver is an amazing organ with more than 500 vital bodily functions. It is an integral part of energy metabolism, aids in digestion, regulates blood clotting, clears the blood of medications or other substances, makes immune factors, produces proteins, and stores products and blood for future use. The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself and replace damaged tissue with new cells.

Causes of liver disease include infections, ageing, genetic factors, toxins, medication side-effects, inflammation, gallbladder disease, immune-mediated or metabolic disorders and cancer. Most liver disease is acquired over time, but certain dog breeds are at risk for congenital disorders.

What are common liver disease signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Weight loss
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Yellow gums
  • Distended abdomen
  • Seizures or disorientation

Increased hunger may be a sign of liver disease in dogs.

How is liver disease managed in dogs?  

The primary cause of liver disease should first be identified and treated, with the overall goal of making it easier for the liver to regenerate new cells. This can include prescription diets, medications to cleanse the liver, supplements to protect cells from damage and possibly steroids or antibiotics. 

Severe liver disease may require hospitalisation or surgery. Dogs with liver disease need regular veterinary visits and diagnostic monitoring. Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian and an internal medicine specialist is important for the best outcome for your dog. 

What is the prognosis for dogs with liver disease?

The prognosis depends on the successful treatment of the disease’s primary cause. Mild disease that is caught early and treated appropriately has a good prognosis, while longer-term liver damage can result in fibrous scarring (cirrhosis), which prevents the formation of new liver cells. Diseases such as liver cancer carry a poorer prognosis. 

Management tips for dogs with liver disease

At-home needs include:

  • Easy access to food and water, and a comfortable location
  • Consistency with prescribed medications or supplements
  • Strict adherence to a prescription diet
  • Monitoring for changes in gum color, appetite, energy, drinking, urination, or defecation

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog has uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea, yellow gums, a distended abdomen, disorientation, or seizures; collapses; or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website

This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.