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Hepatic lipidosis in dogs
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Hepatic lipidosis in dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

Hepatic lipidosis is the more technical name for the condition commonly referred to as fatty liver disease, which is a condition that is more commonly found in cats than in dogs. However, dogs can and sometimes do suffer from the condition as well, which occurs when an excessive amount of fat builds up in the cells of the liver, and which is accompanied by liver deficiencies and an abnormal flow of bile through the liver.

In dogs, the condition is more commonly diagnosed in very small and toy dog breeds like the Yorkshire terrier and Chihuahua than it is in larger dogs, although theoretically, any dog may potentially develop the condition. In this article, we will look at hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease in the dog in more detail, including the causes, symptoms and prognosis for affected dogs. Read on to learn more.

More about hepatic lipidosis in dogs

When the function of the liver (hepatic function) deteriorates to any great extent, this in turn is likely to affect the ability of the liver to detoxify the bloodstream in the normal way, which involves turning raw digestive fats into the appropriate nutrients that the body needs. This in turn leads to an accumulation of toxins in the bloodstream and within the body, which can lead to a range of different problems developing.

When fat is deposited into the liver cells themselves, this leads to the liver increasing in size, and becoming yellow in colour and greasy in texture. Hepatic lipidosis can either be idiopathic, which means that it happens as a standalone or original condition, or may occur as a secondary complication of various other health issues, such as:

  • Kidney disease or failure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Starvation or being underweight.
  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Heart problems.
  • Certain types of cancers.
  • Pancreatitis.

If hepatic lipidosis occurs as a standalone condition, it will often result in ultimate liver failure. However, if it occurs as a secondary complication of another disease, such as those outlined above, it will often resolve itself once the underlying condition has been successfully treated.

However, regardless of the underlying cause of the condition, hepatic lipidosis is a potentially serious condition that can lead to complications as a result of the fast release of high levels of fat into the bloodstream, due to the propensity of the fatty liver cells themselves to rupture under load.

This fat can then, in its turn, go on to obstruct the arteries of the heart, leading to a potentially acute and serious cardiac problem. As hepatic lipidosis can lead to a wide range of complications and may also be indicative of other conditions, it is important to talk to your vet as soon as you spot something amiss.

What causes hepatic lipidosis in dogs?

The exact biological and chemical cause of hepatic lipidosis in dogs is not definitively known, but when the condition occurs as a primary problem and without another underlying condition leading to it, there are various factors that usually lead to an elevated propensity to developing the condition, which can include both obesity and starvation.

Small and toy dog breeds are more prone to hepatic lipidosis than larger dogs, as their blood: sugar balance and general bodily systems have less available margin for error than larger dogs, and so blood: sugar drops and spikes and going for long periods of time without food are particularly risky for small dogs.

The symptoms of hepatic lipidosis in dogs

Hepatic lipidosis usually comes accompanied by a range of different symptoms, which may include some or all of the following:

  • Rapid weight loss for no obvious reason.
  • Loss of appetite and loss of interest in food.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Jaundice to the pigment of the gums, eyes and ears.
  • Excessive salivation.
  • Depression and general lethargy.

Can hepatic lipidosis be treated?

In cases of hepatic lipidosis that are caused by the presence of an underlying health condition such as diabetes, the condition will usually reverse itself completely given time once the underlying issue has either been successfully treated, or brought under control.

When the condition presents as a standalone issue with no underlying condition leading to it, dietary changes are usually the best way of managing and controlling the condition, and this involves the careful selection of dietary proteins that provide plenty of energy and are rich in nutrients, but that do not store fat in the liver. This means that the main part of the protein component of the dog’s diet will need to change from meat-based protein to milk or soy-based protein, which also have the added advantage of stimulating the liver to release any accumulated fat stores.

Good hydration levels are also vital, which may mean that the dog will need to receive IV fluid therapy during the early stages of treatment, until the condition is brought under control.

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