Liver conditions in cats and dogs

Liver conditions in cats and dogs

Health & Safety

The liver is one of the most important organs in the body and performs a multitude of functions to keep your pet healthy. It is because of all the work it does, that the liver can sometimes be damaged. If your cat or dog has been diagnosed with liver condition, then there are things that can help them lead and almost normal life.

What does the liver do?

The liver plays such an important role in the well-being of the animal and a healthy liver will help your animal stay in the peak of condition. Among its many functions are:

  • The metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates converting them into energy and nutrients.
  • Storage of vitamins and minerals and certain sugars.
  • Filtering of the blood to help remove harmful chemicals and bacteria.
  • The creation of bile, which breaks down fats.
  • Playing an important part in the immune system by creating immune substances.
  • Assisting in maintaining electrolyte and water balance.
  • Excess hormones are broken down and eliminated by the liver.
  • Helping to maintain blood pressure.
  • Removing damaged red blood cells from the body.

And very many more purposes as well, in fact it is thought the liver is responsible for over 500 functions in the body.If any damage occurs with the liver, it normally causes inflammation and this is known as hepatitis. Sometimes liver can be damaged by other diseases that occur in the body and affect how the liver functions.

Signs of liver conditions

As with many diseases in the body, liver problems can have similar symptoms to other diseases. However if you notice any of the following signs then you should contact your veterinary surgeon. Common signs of liver disorder are:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • In cats - drooling saliva
  • In dogs - depression
  • In more severe cases of liver disease (mainly in dogs), there may be nervous signs including circling, head pressing for example against walls, aimless wandering, blindness, aggression and walking unsteadily. This is normally due to a build-up of toxins in the brain, as the animals blood has not been filtered by the liver. (Especially ammonia, which is broken down by the hepatic system).

What causes liver disease?

There are many things that can cause liver conditions but also there are factors that can increase the likelihood of your dog or cat developing a problem, these are:


Tumours of the liver are much more common in cats and dogs over the age of 10; however your pet may be born with a liver disorder. If your pet has a disorder like this from birth, it is most commonly a portosystemic shunt, this is where the blood flow is diverted away from the liver and as result the liver cannot remove toxins from the blood. Symptoms of this condition are normally shown from around six months to one year of age.


In cats research has shown that Siamese breeds are more likely to be born with, or develop certain liver problems. There are a far larger amount of dog breeds that have been found more prone to liver conditions these are: Cocker Spaniels, Yorkshire Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Maltese Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, Irish Wolfhounds, Golden retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherd dogs and Poodles.


Liver disease is found to be more likely to develop in cats that are severely overweight.

Drugs and chemicals

There are certain chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides that can severely affect or damage the liver if accidentally eaten or drunk. Other things that can cause liver disease in are viral infections, bacterial infections, certain drugs (such as corticosteroids), leptospirosis, diabetes, Cushing's disease, hyperthyroidism and other cancerous tumours. In cats liver disease can also be caused by anorexia - which leads to feline hepatic lipidosis. This is where the cat refuses to eat and makes the liver convert fat cells into energy. If prolonged, this condition can be fatal.

Diagnosis of liver disease

As mentioned previously liver disease can carry many symptoms associated with other conditions and because of this diagnosis may take several tests, to determine the cause of your pet's illness. The veterinary surgeon will need to take a blood sample from your dog or cat and have it tested in the laboratory. The results of this blood test may be enough to diagnose liver disease, especially if the results show elevated liver enzymes. The test may also indicate anaemia (where your pet has too few red blood cells) and is another pointer towards liver disease. If these results are inconclusive, then the vet may want to perform x-rays or ultrasound to confirm their diagnosis.

Treatment of liver disease

The liver has an amazing ability to repair and to regenerate, however due to the severity of the disease treatment may or may not be possible. Because the liver is such an important organ in the body, early detection of liver disease enables much more successful treatment. In advanced stages of liver disease the dog or cat may be able to only have supportive therapy. Depending on the cause of the condition some treatment options might include:

  • Intravenous fluids - hospitalising the dog or cat and placing them on a drip to help flush the body of toxins and give the liver a chance to repair.
  • Antibiotics - to help fight any secondary infections.
  • Laxatives - again to help purge the body.
  • Blood transfusions.
  • Prescription diets - these help limit the production of toxins and reduce the workload of the liver, they must be highly digestible and with the correct combination of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
  • Liver supporting drugs - drugs to help break down toxins and substances in the blood.
  • In certain cases where tumours are the cause, chemotherapy may be an option.

There are also some vets that might suggest more natural remedies such as herbal medicines, homoeopathy or acupuncture.The most important thing to remember is that if you suspect your dog or cat may be suffering from a liver complaint, you should contact your vet to discuss your concerns.

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