Liver Disease

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Filed in Dogs, Health

Some breeds of dogs, including West Highland white terriers, don't excrete copper from their systems the way they should, and this can lead to liver disease. More common causes for other breeds are viral and bacterial infections, poisonous substances eaten by the pet, and restricted blood flow to the liver as a result of heart disease or congenital abnormality.

The liver is the largest gland in your dog's body, and serves many complex functions. As a result, many medical disorders can cause liver problems.

The most common signs of liver disease in dogs and cats include lack of appetite and weight loss, depression, yellowing of the gums or the whites of their eyes, increased thirst and dark-colored urine.

Other signs of illness associated with problems involving the liver can include pale gums, fluid buildup in the abdomen and abnormal bleeding. Your pet's abdomen may become enlarged as a result of the accumulation of fluid and enlargement of the liver.

These symptoms, which may appear quickly or develop slowly, also could be signs of a wide range of other medical problems, so it is important to take your pet to a veterinarian for a complete physical exam.

Cats that refuse to eat for a two or three days could be suffering from a liver problem called hepatic lipidosis, in which fat builds up to a dangerously high level in the liver. The fat continues to accumulate until it overwhelms the liver's ability to function properly.

Your veterinarian will examine your pet's tongue and gums for the yellowing associated with jaundice, and will feel the abdomen for abnormalities. A blood test will be helpful, since certain enzymes in the blood usually are elevated during liver disease. A liver biopsy also might be recommended.

Treatment of the liver disease depends on what caused the initial damage. If your pet has an infection, antibiotics usually are appropriate. If the damage has resulted from poison or too much copper in the system, hospitalization and good nursing care will be the main therapy. In all cases, a proper diet recommended by your veterinarian will be very important.

The liver has an excellent capacity to regenerate its cells, so chances are good for recovery when the problem is diagnosed early and treated properly.

Source: Ask the Vet, reprinted with permission by Pet Food Express. Ask the Vet is published by Veterinarian's Best, Inc., PO Box 4459, Santa Barbara, CA, 93103.

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