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Dog Liver Disease

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Dog Liver Disease (Canine Liver Diseases)

Signs and Symptoms

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Canine liver disease is a relatively common disorder among older dogs. It can develop as a result of many different causes and can manifest itself as a number of different specific liver diseases. The liver is a large organ that plays a significant role in a number of different physiological processes. Some of these processes include glycogen storage, synthesis of plasma protein, and detoxification of the blood stream. In addition to these roles, the liver is involved in nearly all biochemical pathways in some capacity, from digestion and nutrient supply to fighting diseases and promoting growth. Therefore, when this organ becomes affected by disease and ceases to work as efficiently as normal, a dog will begin to suffer several consequences.

These consequences will begin to show up as warning signs and symptoms that will alert pet owners to the fact that there is something wrong. As a pet owner, knowing what symptoms to look out for can help you to quickly identify a potential problem and, thus, get qualified help for your pet as soon as possible. While symptoms of this disease can be variable and quite subtle in the early stages, some of the classical symptoms of this condition include decreased appetite and weight loss. Polyuria and polydipsia are also common. These terms refer to excess urination and excess thirst. Your dog may also be affected by depression and lethargy, having much less enthusiasm for life and typical, daily routines.

Furthermore, dogs suffering from liver disease may develop a distended abdomen, which is a sign of fluid retention and enlargement of the liver. Stools may be gray or light in color, while urine may be darker than normal, possibly with an orange cast. Diarrhea and vomiting may also occur. Some dogs may also suffer from weakness and confusion. In advanced stages of this disease, a dog may be plagued with convulsions. In addition, another classical sign of liver disease is jaundice. This involves the yellowing of a dog's gums, skin, and the whites of a dog's eyes. If you notice your dog exhibiting any of the above symptoms and warning signs, it's imperative that you alert your veterinarian immediately so that a firm diagnosis can be made and a proper course of treatment can be initiated.

Diagnosis

The function of the liver is closely tied in with the function of many other organs and physiological systems. As a result, attributing illness and certain symptoms to the liver cannot always be done easily. This is especially true since many of the symptoms of liver disease are similar to those of other diseases. Therefore, in order to make a diagnosis of liver disease, a number of diagnostic procedures will have to be carried out. For this reason, there are many different steps and tools that veterinarians may employ when examining a dog suspected of having liver disease.

To begin with, a veterinary doctor will want to study the canine patient's history. Knowing about symptoms displayed at home as well as other factors, such as medications administered or the recent use of pesticides or insecticides in the dog's environment, can provide useful clues for the medical practitioner. Next, through a physical exam, the doctor will check for signs such as a distended abdomen, bruising, fever, and jaundice. This examination will then typically be followed by a variety of diagnostic tests.

One common diagnostic method involves blood tests. Such tests can check on a number of different aspects of a canine's blood, including red and white blood cell levels as well as the levels of certain enzymes. For example, the enzymes alanine aminotransferase and alkaline phosphatase often appear in elevated amounts in a dog suffering from liver disease. In addition to a range of blood tests, a bile acid test and a urinalysis may also be conducted.

Other diagnostic tools include radiology and ultrasound. Radiographs can be helpful with identifying physical abnormalities of a dog's liver, such as unusually small size, enlargement, or other atypical characteristics. Ultrasound can also help with a veterinarian's examination by allowing for examination of the organ's internal structure and by assisting with the differentiation of certain liver conditions. In some cases, surgery may be employed. This allows a veterinary doctor to explore the liver directly and also to obtain a sample for a biopsy if such a measure is required.

Pathophysiology

Located near the diaphragm, the liver consists of six lobes that are divided into three regions. This organ is the largest in a dog's body, and this size corresponds to its great importance with respect to a multitude of physiological functions and processes. In fact, the liver continuously carries out thousands of different processes all the same time. As such a complex organ, the liver has too many functions to discuss all once. However, some of the most significant functions will be briefly discussed below.

Protein, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism are all important functions carried out by a dog's liver. These roles are carried out in coordination with other systems such as the endocrine and circulatory systems. Most of the body's proteins are produced in the liver through the assembly of amino acids. These proteins then carry out numerous important functions in the rest of the body. For example, the protein albumin plays a vital role in maintaining fluid levels and pressures in the arteries and veins.

The liver also fulfills several functions with regards to carbohydrate metabolism. Gluconeogenesis, glycogenolysis, and glycogenolysis are all carried out by this organ. Respectively, these terms refer to the synthesis of glucose through the use of amino acids, lactate, or glycerol; the production of glucose by the breaking down of glycogen; and the synthesis of glycogen through the use of glucose. With respect to lipid metabolism, the liver regulates fatty acid levels, manufactures cholesterol, and produces triglycerides. As a result, it's clear that this organ is deeply involved in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids.

In addition to these functions, the liver also acts as a detoxification system for the body. It is responsible for removing drugs and other toxic substances from the body by breaking them down into components that can then be more easily flushed from a dog's system. While many other functions are controlled and carried out by the liver, these are some of the most significant ones. As this organ is involved in so many vital systems and processes, it's not surprising that a dog will suffer from many negative effects when its liver is not working properly.

Causes

Canine liver disease can be caused by a multitude of different factors and conditions. Sometimes trauma can be the trigger for this disease. Trauma can occur in a variety of ways, including a blow when hit by a car or through a case of heatstroke. Drugs and toxins can also lead to liver disease. Thousands of different chemicals can be responsible for triggering liver disease in a canine, including pesticides and several different medications that are used to treat other medical conditions in dogs. Such pharmaceuticals include acetaminophen, worming medications, and epilepsy medications. Canine liver disease can also result from various viral or bacterial infections, or it could stem from an abnormality of the liver that the dog was born with.

In many cases, liver disease arises as a result of another medical condition. For instance, anemia can lead to decreased oxygen delivery to liver cells which can then cause the cells to become damaged or even killed completely. Heartworm and heart disease can block or change the blood flow to the liver, which can trigger multiple problems in this organ. Furthermore, pancreatitis and cancer have also been known to cause liver disease in canines. As a result, this disease can be caused by numerous factors and conditions.

Treatment

The course of treatment required in a case of canine liver disease will depend upon the cause of the condition. For example, if trauma was the trigger, hospitalization while the dog recovers from the impact of the trauma may be all that is required. On the other hand, antibiotics may be needed if a bacterial infection is at the root of the disease. Furthermore, when liver disease is caused by another medical condition such as cancer or anemia, these additional medical circumstances will need to be taken into account.

In addition to certain medications, dietary adjustments and supplements can be very useful when attempting to treat canine liver disease. Dietary changes can include adjusting the amounts of proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals that a dog ingests. This will then ensure that the canine patient is receiving the nutrition it needs and will also help to decrease the stress and workload of the liver. Furthermore, vitamin K can be helpful with respect to controlling bleeding disorders while vitamin E, as an antioxidant, helps to remove free radicals and to prevent continued oxidative damaged to the canine's liver.

Certain homeopathic remedies can also be very helpful when treating canine liver disease. Natural herbs and substances such as burdock and greater celandine have properties that assist with the purification of blood, the stimulation of digestive enzymes, and the protection of the liver from toxic substances. Also, some such substances have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Milk thistle is another natural ingredient that is known to be very effective in cases of canine liver disease. This natural substance acts as an antioxidant like vitamin E, stimulates production of new liver cells, and helps to prevent certain toxins from attaching to the liver. Thus, many natural substances and remedies can be very beneficial for dogs suffering from liver disease. However, it is always important to carry out any form of treatment under the supervision of a qualified veterinary doctor.

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