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Liver Failure in Dogs and Cats

Cat rubbing against a dog sitting in a field of green grass. Liver failure in dogs and cats.

What is Liver Failure in Dogs and Cats?

Acute liver failure in dogs and cats is the loss of liver function that occurs rapidly (in days or weeks). It usually appears in pets that have no pre-existing liver disease. Chronic liver disease occurs gradually and can be caused by an ongoing health condition.

In cats (particularly obese), a simple lack of appetite (anorexia for 2 or 3 days) can result in a very serious condition called hepatic lipidosis, resulting from excessive accumulation of fat in liver cells.

What Causes Liver Failure?

There are many possible causes of liver disease. Sometimes a definitive diagnosis cannot be made. It can be caused by hepatitis virus, drugs, such as acetaminophen, ingestion of toxic substances, changes in blood supply to the liver resulting from heart disease or a congenital abnormality, cancer, diabetes, etc.

In cats (particularly obese) a simple lack of appetite (anorexia for 2 or 3 days) can result in a very serious condition called hepatic lipidosis, resulting from excessive accumulation of fat in liver cells.

Clinical Signs of Liver Failure in Dogs and Cats

The most common symptoms of liver disease are:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the gums, eyes, and even the skin)
  • Increase in water consumption
  • Urine darkening

Other disease symptoms associated with the liver may also be ascites (accumulation of fluid in the belly), pale mucous membranes associated with bleeding problems, etc.

These symptoms may appear suddenly or develop slowly. Other diseases can cause similar clinical signs and it is very important that a veterinarian examine your pet.

What are the Diagnostic Tests?

It is diagnosed by testing the liver function through a complete blood count test. To check for liver damage, CT scans and MRIs are helpful. Also, a liver biopsy may be necessary, which involves removing a small liver sample and examining it for signs of damage or disease.

What are the Treatment Options for Pets With Liver Failure?

Liver failure is a life-threatening condition that demands urgent medical care!

The goal of the treatment is:

  • Eliminate or remove, if possible, the disease-causing agent
  • Minimize the effects of the disease-causing the damage to the liver
  • Maintain the pet’s life until liver functions return to normal

Surgery may be an option for dogs and cats with tumors or cysts.

Liver diseases cause changes and the destruction of liver cells. Fortunately, the liver has a large reserve capacity and, unlike other organs in the body, it has the ability to regenerate.

How Can I Take Care of a Dog or Cat with Liver Failure?

Dietary Therapy

The goals of dietary therapy are to decrease symptoms related to liver failure and, at the same time to optimize liver regeneration conditions. This type of diet provides the body with optimal amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, ensuring balanced nutrition, and reducing the work of the liver. The energy in the diet should come from easily digestible carbohydrates and high-quality fats.

During this time, your pet must consume only a special diet. Your pet’s recovery largely depends on adherence to the diet. Most animals get used to the new diet if it is introduced slowly and the routine and eating habits are maintained.