What to feed a dog with liver problems?


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The liver is an organ that is responsible for removing all of the unnecessary metabolites in the body. It is basically a filter that keeps everything sorted which is why owners should always try and do regular checkups on their dog’s biochemistry. 

When an inflammation of the liver happens, that is called hepatitis and dogs usually are unhappy and look sick. In this article, we will talk a little bit about what hepatitis is and we will discuss how you can feed your ill dog while on the road to recovery.

What is hepatitis in dogs?

The term hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver and it can be caused by different factors, such as viral or bacterial agents, metabolic changes, toxins or immune-mediated diseases. 

  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH): This is primarily caused by Canine Adenovirus Type 1 (CAV-1). It’s a contagious viral infection that affects the liver and other organs. ICH can lead to a range of symptoms, including fever, lethargy, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and even respiratory signs.
  • Toxic Hepatitis: Exposure to certain toxins, medications, or chemicals can damage the liver and lead to hepatitis. Ingesting poisonous substances or prolonged use of medications like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can contribute to toxic hepatitis.
  • Immune-Mediated Hepatitis: In some cases, the immune system can mistakenly target and attack the liver, leading to inflammation. This is known as immune-mediated hepatitis. The exact cause of this condition is not always clear.
  • Leptospirosis: This bacterial infection caused by Leptospira bacteria can affect the liver and cause hepatitis, among other symptoms. Leptospirosis can be transmitted through contact with contaminated water or infected animals.
  • Portosystemic shunt: usually a congenital malformation in the liver, where there is a vessel that bypasses the hepatic metabolism, which means not all of the blood gets properly cleaned.

What are the clinical signs of liver problems?

There are not many specific signs that can point out liver problems straight away unless you have seen the dog turn yellow overnight. Most owners usually report their dog being lethargic, refusing to eat, possibly having a runny stool or even throwing up. 

In more severe cases we do see jaundice, which is yellowing of the mucous membranes, increased thirst and urination, and abdominal pain, especially on palpation. 

What can I do if I suspect something is wrong with my dog’s liver?

You will always contact your vet or better yet take it to the veterinary clinic, where it can be properly examined. After the initial physical examination, the vet will draw out some blood for CBC and biochemistry and then they can tell you what is happening with your dog.

Further investigations may be required, which is why your dog may be sent for an ultrasound examination, as well as x-rays. If they are suspecting it is infectious, they may run other more advanced investigations, to confirm a diagnosis. No matter what they do, having a diagnosis is always a paved road to a longer recovery.

What can I feed my dog while it’s treated for liver problems?

Your vet will certainly discuss with you the treatment protocols. It is always good to ask what you can feed your dog, just so that you can help the liver not overwork itself. Generally, a diet for dogs with liver problems should focus on being easily digestible, low in fat, and providing high-quality protein. Here are some guidelines:

  • Prescription Diet: Your veterinarian may recommend a specific prescription diet formulated for dogs with liver disease. These diets are designed to provide the appropriate balance of nutrients while minimizing stress on the liver.
  • Low-Fat Proteins: Opt for lean protein sources that are easy to digest, such as boiled or baked chicken (without skin), turkey, or low-fat cottage cheese. Protein is important, but it should be provided in controlled amounts to avoid overburdening the liver.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Choose carbohydrates that provide a steady source of energy and are easy on the digestive system. Options include cooked white rice, pasta, and well-cooked oats.
  • Low-Sodium Foods: Limit sodium intake, as excessive sodium can place additional stress on the liver. Avoid highly processed or salty foods.
  • Moderate Fiber: A moderate amount of soluble fiber can help with digestion. You can include well-cooked vegetables like carrots and green beans.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, may have anti-inflammatory properties and support liver health. Consult your vet for appropriate supplementation.
  • Avoid Certain Foods: Avoid high-fat foods, fatty treats, commercial pet treats, and table scraps. Also, steer clear of foods that may be toxic to the liver, such as onions, garlic, grapes, and raisins.

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