The most common causes of liver disease in dogs

The most common causes of liver disease in dogs

Health & Safety

The liver is one of the body’s major organs, and one that has a vital part to play in several of the body’s essential functions. It helps to metabolise food, produce enzymes and chemicals that aid in digestion, regulates glycogen storage and detoxifies the body, as well as assisting in hormone production and the production of bile.

However, while these might be the best-known functions of the liver, not even the experts really know exactly all of the functions that the liver takes care of, but current estimates place it at around 500, and few of us could name more than five of them!

All told, this means that like all major organs, the liver is vital to support health and life, for your dog just as much as it is for us as humans. However, liver disease in dogs is also one of the species’ leading killers particularly in older dogs. However, the liver doesn’t always fail immediately, and in some cases, dogs can develop progressive or chronic liver conditions that can take a long time to cause full shut down, and that can often be managed and controlled in the mean time.

Additionally, the symptoms of liver disease in dogs can be subtle and hard to miss, which can compromise your chances of delaying or stalling the disease’s onset. Knowing how to spot potential liver problems in the making or the early stages of the disease can help you to intervene early and get your dog the supportive treatment that they need.

In this article, we will look at the most common causes of liver disease in dogs, and how to spot the symptoms. Read on to learn more.

Accidents and injuries

Whilst the main causes of liver disease are usually related to illness and health problems, liver damage and disease can also be caused by injuries. If your dog is hit by a car or takes a fall, it is always wise to get them checked out by your vet even if they appear fine, as they might have sustained internal injuries.

A liver injury may present with problems a few days after the event, or it might not become apparent until some months or even years later, so always bear in mind past injuries or problems.


Heatstroke is a serious danger to dogs in the summer months, whether they be left in a hot car or simply run around and cannot cool down when it is hot. Later stages of heatstroke can actually prove fatal, and cause permanent damage to the internal organs including the liver, even if the dog ostensibly recovers.

Secondary complications of infection

Bacterial or viral infections can affect the liver and other internal organs, and these can often be resolved with the appropriate treatment by your vet. However, a resistant, chronic or untreated infection can cause permanent damage to your dog’s liver, which may manifest as liver disease.

Inappropriate diet

Feeding your dog the correct diet for their age and life stage helps to ensure that they stay healthy for life and can thrive, and feeding a diet that is not complete or is not the right fit can lead to a whole range of both immediate problems, and those that take longer to manifest.

While liver disease may not be one of the most obvious or immediate problems that can be caused by feeding the wrong diet, it is certainly something that should be borne in mind.

Long-term medications

Certain types of long-term medications for other conditions can cause damage to the liver, as it is unable to process them properly and they can build up within the tissue of the liver itself. This may include certain commonly used veterinary painkillers or steroids designed for chronic health problems, and this is something that your vet should make you aware of at the time.

However, in many cases, the risks are far outweighed by the benefits of medicating the dog as required, and so there is a balance to be achieved in this respect.

Congenital defects

If a pup is born with a congenital defect or hereditary health condition, this can lead to the liver being poorly developed, unable to function properly, or susceptible to failure later on.

Pre-breeding health screening and finding out about the health of the parent dogs can help to avoid this problem.

Toxins and poisons

Finally, if your dog ingests toxins or a poisonous substance, the liver is often the first organ to be affected by this, as the liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the blood. If you know or suspect that your dog has eaten something toxic or poisonous, take them to your vet immediately, as you can never tell how the problem will progress and what supportive care your dog may need.

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