Dog liver disease encompasses a wide spectrum of conditions. A dog's liver may malfunction for example because a cancer has invaded. Other times, an abscess may have formed or infection may have moved into the tissues or the bile duct system. Cirrhosis of the liver is an end-stage condition where scar tissue replaces normal functioning liver cells. Parasites (e.g. flukes) may also enter this organ and disrupt normal function. Sometimes a structural problem may exist that interferes with function such as a portosystemic shunt, a condition whereby blood vessels do not form properly, and circulation bypasses the liver. Toxins from chemicals are another trigger for a malfunctioning liver. Certain breeds of dogs are prone to inherited diseases such as copper liver disease in Bedlington Terriers and Westies.
This is not an exhaustive list, but your veterinary team can sit down with you and discuss the best treatment, the prognosis, and any home care steps you can take to keep the quality of life optimal for the particular type of liver disease affecting your pet. The liver has a very large regenerative capacity, so some of the causes of the liver disease are treatable, and healing will return it to full function. Other conditions are progressive in spite of the best treatment. Some conditions are rapidly progressive, while others may progress very slowly. If your dog's liver disease is advanced, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize the dog.
Sometimes when bile backs up in the system due to blockage or inflammation etc., the mucous membranes may take on a yellow hue, and the urine may be bright yellow-orange. This is termed icterus (jaundice) and this pigment needs to be flushed from the system at the veterinary hospital. Advanced liver disease may also lead to neurological signs such as head pressing and deep lethargy. This is termed hepatic encephalopathy, and results from build up of nitrogen wastes in the bloodstream because the liver is not functioning at capacity.
The liver is a very important organ with many complex functions, and it is important to identify the specific type of liver dysfunction so that the proper treatment may be undertaken, and a reasonably accurate prognosis assigned.