Protecting Your Pet’s Liver: Understanding Damage, Signs, and Rejuvenation Strategies

Bev Saunders
March 26, 2024

Protecting Your Pet’s Liver: Understanding Damage, Signs, and Rejuvenation Strategies

How important is the liver?

The liver is a vital organ that plays a multitude of crucial roles in maintaining overall health and well-being, not only for humans but also for our beloved pets. Serving as the body’s largest internal organ, the liver is a metabolic powerhouse responsible for a wide range of functions essential for life. It aids in digestion by producing bile, which helps break down fats and absorb nutrients from food. Additionally, the liver acts as a detoxification center, filtering out harmful substances from the blood, including toxins, drugs, and metabolic waste products. Beyond detoxification, it also synthesizes proteins, stores energy in the form of glycogen, and regulates blood sugar levels. Furthermore, the liver is involved in immune function, blood clotting, and the metabolism of hormones. Given its indispensable role in maintaining overall health, protecting the liver from damage and supporting its optimal function is paramount for ensuring the well-being and longevity of our furry companions.

Today we are going to talk about what can damage the liver, the signs of a damaged liver, and ways to help rejuvenate the liver.

Things that can damage the liver:

  1. Toxic Substances: Exposure to toxins such as certain medications, chemical cleaners, pesticides, and poisonous plants can damage liver cells and impair liver function.
  2. Viral Infections: Hepatitis viruses, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, can cause inflammation of the liver, leading to various degrees of liver damage and potentially chronic liver disease.
  3. Obesity: Excess dietary fat intake, common in overweight and obese dogs, can overwhelm the liver’s capacity to process and metabolize fats efficiently. As a result, triglycerides accumulate within the liver cells, leading to the development of fatty liver.
  4. Poor Diet: Consuming a diet high in processed foods, sugar, unhealthy fats, and low in nutrients can contribute to liver damage over time, such as kibble, processed treats (not in their natural form), and table scraps. Feed a balanced raw diet.
  5. Certain Medications: Some prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal supplements, can have adverse effects on the liver if taken in high doses or over prolonged periods. For example, long-term use of Prednisone may strain the liver’s metabolic functions and potentially lead to liver dysfunction or exacerbate pre-existing liver conditions. Other chemicals such as the following list can cause liver problems.
    • Heartworm drugs
    • Dewormers
    • Flea & tick pesticides
    • Vaccines
    • Medications
    • Food additives
  6. Autoimmune Diseases: Conditions like autoimmune hepatitis, where the immune system mistakenly attacks liver cells, can lead to inflammation and liver damage.
  7. Hemochromatosis: This is a genetic disorder causing excess accumulation of iron in the body, which can lead to liver damage among other complications.
  8. Chronic Diseases: Chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and certain genetic disorders can increase the risk of liver damage.
  9. Excessive Consumption of Fast Food: High intake of fast food, which is often high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and additives, can contribute to liver damage and fatty liver disease. For example.
    • High-Fat Treats: Treats that are excessively high in fat, such as certain types of fatty meat scraps, bacon, or grease-laden table scraps, can contribute to obesity and potentially lead to conditions like pancreatitis or fatty liver disease in dogs if consumed regularly.
    • High-Sodium Treats: Treats that are high in sodium, such as certain types of processed meats or salty snacks, can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances in dogs. Excessive sodium intake can also contribute to high blood pressure and kidney problems, indirectly affecting liver health.
    • Artificial Ingredients: Some fast food treats for dogs may contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and other additives that are not suitable for regular consumption. While these additives may not directly cause liver damage, they can contribute to overall health issues if consumed in large quantities over time.
    • Grain-Based Treats: Some fast food treats may be high in carbohydrates from grains like wheat, corn, or soy, which are not essential for a dog’s diet and may contribute to obesity and other health problems if consumed excessively.
    • Large Quantities of Liver Treats: While liver treats themselves are not harmful in moderation, excessive consumption of liver treats or supplements can potentially lead to vitamin A toxicity in dogs, which can affect the liver and other organs. Talk to your pet food professional here.

Signs of liver damage to look out for:

  1. Itchy Skin: Pruritus, or itchy skin, can occur due to the buildup of toxins in the blood as a result of impaired liver function.
  2. Dark Urine: Urine that appears darker than usual, can indicate liver problems.
  3. Pale Stools: Stools that are lighter in color than normal, often due to decreased bile production by the liver.
  4. Unexplained Weight Loss: Sudden or unexplained weight loss without changes in diet or exercise habits can indicate liver issues.
  5. Easy Bruising or Bleeding: Liver damage can affect blood clotting factors, leading to easy bruising or bleeding.
  6. Confusion or Cognitive Impairment: Severe liver damage can lead to hepatic encephalopathy, causing confusion, difficulty concentrating, and other cognitive symptoms.
  7. Increased Thirst and Urination: Liver disease can lead to increased thirst and urination in dogs, as the liver plays a role in regulating fluid balance and urine production. Dogs with liver disease may drink more water than usual and have to urinate more frequently.
  8. Loss of Appetite: Dogs with liver disease may experience a decreased appetite or aversion to food. This loss of appetite can contribute to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies if not addressed.
  9. Vomiting and Diarrhea: Liver disease can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. These symptoms may be intermittent or chronic, depending on the severity and underlying cause of the liver disease.
  10. Abdominal Distension: As liver disease progresses, fluid may accumulate in the abdomen, leading to abdominal distension or swelling. This condition, known as ascites, can cause discomfort and difficulty breathing in affected dogs.
  11. Weakness and Lethargy: Dogs with liver disease may exhibit weakness, lethargy, and decreased energy levels. They may seem more tired than usual and may be less interested in activities or exercise.
  12. Yellowing of the Skin and Eyes (Jaundice): Jaundice is a common sign of liver disease in dogs and is characterized by yellowing of the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes. Jaundice occurs when the liver is unable to process bilirubin effectively, leading to its accumulation in the bloodstream and tissues.
  13. Neurological Symptoms: In severe cases of liver disease, dogs may exhibit neurological symptoms such as disorientation, seizures, or behavioral changes. These symptoms can occur due to the buildup of toxins in the bloodstream, affecting the brain’s function.
  14. Bleeding Disorders: Liver disease can impair the production of clotting factors, leading to bleeding disorders in dogs. Dogs with liver disease may bruise easily, experience prolonged bleeding from minor cuts or injuries, or develop nosebleeds or bleeding gums.

Ways to help rejuvenate the liver:

  1. Milk Thistle: Contains a compound called silymarin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties believed to support liver health and regeneration.
  2. Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which has been shown to have hepatoprotective effects and may help reduce liver inflammation and damage.
  3. Artichoke: Contains compounds that stimulate bile flow and liver regeneration, aiding in detoxification and liver function.
  4. Dandelion Root: Known for its diuretic properties, dandelion root may help support liver function by promoting detoxification and bile production.
  5. Green Tea: Rich in antioxidants, green tea has been associated with improved liver function and reduced risk of liver diseases.
  6. Cruciferous Vegetables: Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts contain compounds that support liver detoxification pathways. For example:
    • Broccoli: Broccoli is a nutritious vegetable rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Dogs can eat broccoli florets in small quantities, either raw or cooked. However, broccoli stalks can be difficult for dogs to digest and may cause gastrointestinal upset, so it’s best to feed them only the florets.
    • Cauliflower: Cauliflower is another cruciferous vegetable that dogs can eat in moderation. It is low in calories and high in fiber, making it a healthy treat option for dogs. Like broccoli, cauliflower can be served cooked or raw, but it’s essential to avoid seasoning or sauces that may be harmful to dogs.
    • Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts are rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Dogs can eat Brussels sprouts in small amounts, either cooked or raw. However, feeding too many Brussels sprouts may cause gas or digestive upset in some dogs, so it’s best to introduce them gradually.
    • Kale: Kale is a nutrient-dense leafy green vegetable that can be beneficial for dogs when fed in moderation. It is high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as antioxidants. However, kale contains compounds called oxalates, which can interfere with calcium absorption and may be harmful to dogs in large quantities. Therefore, kale should be fed sparingly.
    • Cabbage: Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable that dogs can eat in small amounts. It is low in calories and contains vitamins C and K, as well as fiber. Dogs can eat both green and red cabbage, either cooked or raw, but it’s essential to feed them in moderation to prevent digestive upset.
    • Bok Choy: Bok choy, also known as Chinese cabbage, is a cruciferous vegetable that dogs can eat in moderation. It is low in calories and contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium and potassium. Dogs can eat both the leaves and stems of bok choy, either cooked or raw.
  7. Garlic: Contains sulfur compounds that support liver detoxification processes and may help reduce liver inflammation.
  8. Fatty Fish: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines may help reduce liver fat accumulation and inflammation.
  9. Leafy Greens: Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall liver health.

It’s important to note that the presence and severity of symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause and progression of liver disease. If you notice any signs of liver disease in your dog, it’s crucial to seek veterinary attention promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment. Early intervention can help improve the prognosis and quality of life for dogs with liver disease.

We hope this has given you a good insight into the liver and how important it is to look after it for yourself and your pets.