Liver Problems in Dogs

Claire Dunling

From cleansing the blood and helping digestion to absorb vitamins and minerals – the liver is a super organ. Because the liver plays such a vital role in regulating bodily functions, it is more prone to be affected by a variety of different sources. The liver can regenerate cells so a full recovery for your pooch is a possibility. However, if not diagnosed and treated promptly with medication and a suitable diet, hepatic conditions can cause quick deterioration with widespread effects.

Causes of liver problems in dogs

Age is the most prevalent factor that causes liver problems in dogs. However, your dog’s breed and genetics can also increase their chances of liver disease. Cocker Spaniels, Yorkshire Terriers and Rottweilers are typical breeds that are prone to liver problems. Chronic hepatitis is a condition normally found in female Doberman Pinschers.

Sago palms are commonly found in many gardens and greenhouses around the UK. If you are concerned, remove the plant or create a barricade so your dog cannot come into contact with it. If your dog has consumed any part of a Sago palm, including seeds, roots or leaves, they may vomit or have a seizure. If the liver is affected, your dog may have jaundice or black, tarry stools.

The Groundsel or Ragwort weed grows prolifically around the country and has many different species. All parts of the weed are highly poisonous to dogs and cause liver damage. If your dog has eaten any foliage and starts to display poisoning symptoms, take them to your vets immediately. To diagnose liver damage, your vet will undertake several tests including blood tests and possibly take a radiograph to check on internal organs.

Blue-green algae often found on top of freshwater or sometimes brackish water multiplies in warm or humid conditions. Even just a small amount can cause severe liver damage to dogs and can have fatal consequences within hours if left untreated. Other causes of liver damage:

 Signs of liver disease

As with many dog ailments, it’s often difficult to tell what the root cause is as symptoms are usually similar to other conditions. If you notice any of the following, booking an appointment with the vet is recommended:

Treating liver problems

Treatment offered to your dog will depend on the cause of liver damage. For instance, if it is a result of an external factor like consuming a toxic substance to dogs then your vet may start fluid therapy to flush the toxins out of the body as quickly as possible. Charcoal may be administered to clear any remaining toxin in the stomach.

When the diagnosis is acute liver failure, your dog will require hospital care and several treatments including blood tests, intravenous fluids, possibly surgery and medication.


If your dog has been diagnosed with high copper intake in their liver, usually as a result of chronic hepatitis, you will need to monitor their food intake very closely. The aim is to reduce the copper as much as possible and to prevent further build-up. A complete dietetic feed, like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hepatic, has low levels of copper to help reduce the quantity in liver cells. The kibble is full of vegetable protein which provides a clean energy source that allows the liver to rest while cells regenerate. The Hepatic diet also contains high levels of essential fatty acids and highly digestible carbohydrates.

Your vet may also recommend starting a course of hepatic supplements to help protect and improve the liver function. Protexin Denamarin comes in a tablet form and is composed of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) – a naturally occurring molecule formed in the body which helps regenerate liver cells and improves body functions. Protexin Denamarin also contains natural ingredients, like Milk Thistle which protects and repairs liver tissue from the effects of toxins or drugs.

Even though liver disease cannot always be avoided, keeping a close eye on their diets, looking out for any unusual symptoms and keeping up with frequent veterinary appointments to catch any sign of liver disease as early as possible are the best preventative measures to take.

This article is for guidance only and if you have any concerns about your pet you should always seek the advice of a qualified vet.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!