Liver Disease in Dogs: Which Breeds Are Most at Risk?


The liver has a very important role to play in the health of your dog. The liver must filter and eliminate various toxins in the blood, aid in digestion, and participate in the transformation of nutrients. For these reasons, a disease affecting the liver can lead to serious symptoms and discomfort for your pet.

Breeds of dogs at higher risks for liver disease

Certain breeds of dogs are at higher risks for developing liver disease. Terriers like the Bedlington terrier, the West Highland white terrier, the Skye terrier, the Yorkshire terrier, as well as Pinschers and Spaniels, are particularly predisposed to liver diseases like copper toxicity, because their system is less able to eliminate copper from the blood, and it accumulates in the liver to toxic levels. Dobermans and Dalmatians are also affected by liver insufficiency, where the liver does not function well enough and leads to chronic disease. Labradors and Schnauzers run the risk of accumulation of fat in the liver, leading to lipidosis.

Causes of liver disease

Regardless of whether your dog is a member of a high risk breed, it is important to note that the liver remains a fragile organ that is particularly susceptible to changes associated with aging, and regular testing by your veterinarian is recommended. Liver diseases can affect dogs whose vaccinations are not up-to-date, those receiving medication, and those whose nutrition is not well adapted to their current metabolism or age. Some liver diseases are hereditary, while others may be due to ingestion of a toxic substance, or even a symptom of an underlying viral or bacterial infection. Obesity is also a predisposing factor to the development of liver illnesses in dogs, therefore a proper diet is very important.

Symptoms of liver disease

Symptoms of liver disease vary greatly, and may resemble the signs associated with other illnesses. It is very important to visit your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog is sick in order to prevent more serious illness, or even death, if the liver is affected. Symptoms of liver disease will usually only become evident once 2/3 of the liver is affected, meaning that the disease is already quite advanced. Early symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, a swollen abdomen, lethargy, and loss of appetite leading to weight loss, as well as darker urine. However, one of the tell-tale signs of liver disease, and a sign that the illness has reached an advanced stage, is when the skin, eyes, and gums of the dog take on a yellow tinge, known as jaundice.

Treatment for liver disease

The treatment plan for liver disease will depend on the severity of the current problem, as well as the main cause of the illness. Your veterinarian will need to complete a diagnostic panel that may include blood and urine tests, x-rays, an ultrasound, and liver biopsy. These results will enable your veterinarian to prepare a treatment plan that may include a change in diet, medication, or even a surgical procedure. Liver disease in older dogs is especially serious, and can be life-threatening. Early detection of liver disease can be done with annual blood testing, especially important as your pet ages.