Nutritional Strategies to Slow Liver Disease in Dogs

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The Can Dogs Eat It Team

Nutritional Strategies to Slow Liver Disease in Dogs
Reading Time: 8 minutes

joana garridoReviewed By Joana Garrido DVM

Liver disease in dogs is a severe health issue that needs prompt attention before it causes debilitating and fatal health complications.

One way to mitigate its development is by constructing a diet based on the complexity of the illness. When combined with proper medical treatment, this method can significantly help quicken the natural regeneration of dogs’ livers.

This article will discuss the different forms of liver disease in canines and dietary guidelines that can help hinder their progression.

What Does the Liver Do in Dogs?

a dog is having his head on the ground

The liver is the second-largest organ in dogs that has a multitude of critical functions including:

  • Proper filtration of body toxins
  • Metabolization of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats
  • Promoting normal blood clotting
  • Regulating the blood levels of amino acids
  • Acting as storage of certain nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, and iron
  • Fighting off harmful pathogens reaching the liver through the GI tract
  • Drug metabolism

Dealing damage to the liver can heavily compromise these different processes in canines. It can snowball into serious health complications that can reduce their quality of life.

What Is Liver Disease in Dogs?

a dog is looking at you

Liver disease in dogs is a catchall term used to describe various ailments affecting the said organ. Here are some of the health problems belonging to this category:

Canine Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a liver problem resulting from the inflammation of the organ. There are two types of canine hepatitis in dogs: acute and chronic.

Acute hepatitis means the inflammation has appeared within just a few days. On the other hand, chronic hepatitis refers to the long-term manifestation of the disorder.

Portosystemic Shunt (PSS)

PSS is caused by the abnormal development and formation of the blood vessels in the liver. It prevents proper detoxification, leading to the buildup of toxins in the body.

This liver disease in dogs can either be congenital or a health complication resulting from a preexisting ailment.

Copper Storage Disease

Copper storage disease is a liver disorder that causes excessive accumulation of the mineral in dogs’ livers. As a result, the organ sustains progressive damage and scarring.

This health problem is acquired hereditarily or develops due to high copper levels in the diets of canines.

Hepatobiliary neoplasia

Liver cancer in dogs comes in two forms, namely primary and metastatic. Primary liver cancer is a result of a tumor formation originating from the liver. Out of the two, it is the rarest.

Metastatic or secondary liver cancer appears when cancer is spread to the liver from other organs. It is the most common form of liver cancer in dogs.

Dog Breeds Susceptible to Liver Disease

a Yorkshire Terrier is shaking a hand

Any dog can develop liver disease, but some dog breeds are more prone to developing certain forms of this condition than others.

For instance, the portosystemic shunt is commonly seen in Cairn Terriers, Irish Wolfhounds, Maltese Terriers, Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Old English Sheepdogs, Yorkshire Terriers, and Silky Terriers.

Copper storage disease is prevalent in Bedlington Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, and West Highland White Terriers.

Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs

Dogs with liver disease may exhibit the following clinical signs during its early stages:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Inappetence
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

As liver disease progresses, more serious symptoms will begin to appear such as:

  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Distended belly
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Unsteady gait
  • Neurologic issues (e.g., circling, head pressing)
  • Seizures

It is important to note that the liver is a self-regenerating organ, meaning it could heal itself. If given immediate attention, mild liver disease can be treated or managed with a good prognosis.

Leaving it untreated, on the other hand, can cause life-threatening health complications to manifest, such as acute liver failure and hepatic encephalopathy.

What Causes Liver Disease in Dogs?

a dog is having a health check by a vet

In some cases, canine liver problems are caused by decreased liver function brought on by old age or genetics. However, its presence can also be triggered by underlying health issues such as:

  • Leptospirosis
  • Diabetes
  • Heartworms
  • Endocrine diseases
  • Toxicity caused by poisonous food or medication overdose
  • Infectious canine hepatitis due to canine adenovirus 1 (CAV-1)

Since the manifestation of liver disease in dogs can be caused by several things, proper veterinarian diagnosis must be carried out to determine its root cause.

Depending on your dog’s condition, the veterinarian may request your dog to undergo certain diagnostic examinations such as blood tests, ultrasound, biopsy, and X-rays.

Why Is the Proper Diet Crucial for Dogs with Liver Disease?

Providing a dog with liver disease the right diet for his condition helps minimize the severity of the symptoms often affecting him.

Moreover, it assists in the healing and regeneration of the liver and keeps the organ from overworking.

Managing your dog’s nutrition and diet also prevents his liver from dealing more damage, which hinders the disease’s progression.

Keep in mind that making appropriate dietary changes cannot slow down liver disease on its own. This strategy should be coupled with medical treatment to obtain the best results.

Depending on the severity of the illness, some dogs will need to be on long-term medical therapy and a therapeutic diet.

Other pooches that are fortunate enough to recover may be advised to halt taking medications but continue with lifelong nutritional management.

Recommended Dietary Changes in Dogs with Liver Disease

Canines diagnosed with liver disease may require dietary modifications based on their clinical condition, final diagnosis, and liver function evaluation.

Patients suffering from liver diseases should adhere to diets that are easily digestible, calorie-dense, highly appetizing, easy to prepare and serve, and offered in frequent, small meals.

To ensure optimal nutrition for dogs with liver disease, here are some general guidelines to follow when designing their diet:

1. Dietary Copper Management in Dogs

Determining the ideal amount of dietary copper for dogs with copper-associated liver disease poses a challenge, as it relies on various factors. These include the copper levels in the liver, previous dietary copper intake, the duration of copper accumulation in the liver, and the administration of medications like penicillamine.

Due to the difficulty of assessing copper restriction through liver biopsies, many veterinarians opt to monitor the pet’s blood count regularly to ensure that excessive copper restriction does not lead to anemia. This approach allows for careful management and safeguarding of the pet’s well-being during treatment.

2. Adjustments in Dietary Fat Content

Flaxseeds and a bottle of flaxseed oilWhether or not Fido’s diet will require an increase in fats will depend on his condition. Generally, most dogs with liver disease do well with high-fat diets, while others may need a moderate fat intake.

Choose fat sources with high digestibility and low levels of saturated fats to avoid straining your dog’s liver function. Flaxseed oil, sunflower oil, and ahiflower oil are some of the good options that you can try.

Fats are essential for managing liver problems since they provide affected dogs with energy and increase their food’s palatability. Since this health issue commonly causes excessive weight loss, it helps underweight pooches regain a healthy weight.

However, high-fat diets are not recommended for dogs with liver disease afflicted with certain health issues like pancreatitis, hyperlipidemia, and severe cholestatic disease.

3. Opt for Highly Digestible Carbs

potatosSome forms of canine liver disease, such as liver failure, increase the chances of hypoglycemia. Dogs with any of these conditions may benefit from eating foods packed with soluble carbohydrates to maintain adequate glucose levels.

Great examples of this are:

On the other side of the coin, some types of liver problems, such as hepatic lipidosis, can contribute to the rise of hyperglycemia in dogs. Limiting carbohydrate consumption might be required to keep this problem from happening.

4. Consider Increasing Soluble Fiber Consumption

a small bowl of blueberriesAccording to studies, soluble fiber promotes the growth of good bacteria that aid in minimizing the production of the toxin called enteric ammonia.
Moreover, it helps with the creation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that get rid of bile acids by binding with them and making them easier to be excreted in the feces.

If you are looking for natural sources of soluble fiber, foods like oats, chia seeds, blueberries, and apples are healthy and nutritious choices for your furry pal.

5. Take Caution in Restricting Protein Intake

Excess protein in the bodies of dogs is broken down into two: carbon chain for energy and ammonia, which serves as nitrogen waste.

Certain types of liver disease in dogs such as liver failure cause an increased conversion of nitrogen from unused proteins. It can lead to a buildup of ammonia.

This may result in the development of hepatic encephalopathy. In this case, protein restriction is critical to reduce excessive nitrogen production.

Ideally, dogs should not consume over 2.5 grams of protein per 2 pounds of body weight as an initial protein restriction. If it works, 0.25 to 0.5 grams of protein per 2 pounds of body weight can be added daily.

Keep in mind that not all kinds of liver problems will require this type of dietary alteration. Reducing your dog’s protein intake without consulting the vet will incite a different set of health problems such as protein malnutrition.

6. Offer High-Quality Protein Sources

minced meat

Not all types of protein sources are suitable for dogs with liver disease. Organ meats and fish contain high levels of purines that can exacerbate liver disease in dogs.

Dairy and vegetable protein sources have better bioavailability, making them easily digestible to dogs. For this reason, the most common protein-rich foods recommended for dogs are soy, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheddar cheese.

FAQs About Liver Disease in Dogs

1. Can Dogs Recover from Liver Disease?

Dogs can recover from liver disease, but it will depend on the severity of their condition.

Mild forms of liver disease can be easily managed and treated through medications and proper dietary adjustments. Dogs with severe liver disease have a less positive prognosis of recovering.

2. What Do You Feed a Dog with Liver Problems?

Dogs with liver problems will require a low copper diet containing high-quality proteins sourced from plants or dairy.

Their intake of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and soluble fiber will depend on the type and severity of the liver disease. Thus, it is crucial to work with the veterinarian to come up with the most suitable diet for canines afflicted with liver disease.

3. What Foods Cause Liver Damage in Dogs?

Certain foods that are considered toxic to dogs can cause severe liver damage such as xylitol, grapes, and chocolate.

Ingesting large amounts of medications like paracetamol can result in liver damage too. The same goes for eating poisonous plants and mushrooms such as cycads and amanita.

4. How Often Do You Need to Feed Dogs with Liver Disease?

Feed dogs with liver disease 4 to 5 small meals a day instead of providing a few large meals. Splitting their food into small portions helps reduce the liver’s workload and allows it to rest for faster recovery.


a dog is resting

In dogs, Liver disease can become debilitating if not resolved in its early stages. While medications are the main form of treatment for this condition, tailoring the right diet helps reduce symptoms and hasten the healing of your dog’s liver.

Aside from these solutions, vitamin and nutraceutical supplements also provide aid in your furry pal’s recovery from liver disease. Check out our article about Liver Supplements for Dogs to learn more about them.