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Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog

Pet Liver Problems Demystified

The liver is an important organ , whether you have four legs or two. This essential component of our day to day functioning resides in the front of the abdomen, surrounding the stomach. It has many essential functions, including removing toxins, storing several important vitamins and minerals, regulating blood sugar, and synthesizing several important proteins.

When the liver is in trouble, things can go south quickly. Because the body relies on this organ for so many vital tasks, a liver that is not up to par affects our patients tremendously. Unfortunately, pet liver problems are quite common. Hanford Veterinary Hospital feels that proactive and early action is essential when it comes to maintaining your pet’s hepatic health, and what better way to start than learning a little about the trouble that can occur in this amazing organ.

When Good Livers Go Bad

Because the liver is constantly processing blood from all over the body, it is at high risk of exposure to many things going on in the rest of the animal. This means that when the liver is having problems, there are many potential causes.

Effective and successful treatment of pet liver problems relies on diagnosing what is going on and stopping it where possible. Some of the more common liver issues that we diagnose in our pet patient include:

  • Problems of development (such as a portosystemic shunt)
  • Genetic issues (including a copper storage problems or a clotting disorder)
  • Exposure to a variety of toxins
  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection
  • Gallbladder dysfunction
  • Alteration of metabolism (such as Cushing’s syndrome or fatty liver in cats)
  • Cancer

Identifying your pet’s specific problem is very important so that we can most effectively treat it.

Diagnosis of Pet Liver Problems

Problems with the liver can appear similarly to many other problems, especially early in the course. Sometimes we even diagnose changes in liver values on routine blood testing before symptoms are exhibited.

Typically the first step in diagnosing pet liver problems is checking blood work to help determine what the possible causes and extent of the issue is. We may recommend running blood tests as a screening test prior to anesthesia or as part of your pet’s wellness care. We will also check blood tests if your pet is exhibiting potential signs of a problem, including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Behavioral changes
  • Increased drooling
  • Jaundice
  • Fluid in the abdomen

Blood tests can alert us to trouble in the liver and can even help us distinguish between problems that are affecting the liver itself versus the bile ducts. It also can tell us about liver function. Blood tests in and of themselves, however, are not good at giving us an exact diagnosis. This means that if trouble in paradise is detected, further testing will likely be necessary to pinpoint the problem.

Most times abdominal ultrasound is the best means to evaluate the liver. Ultrasound is an imaging technique that allows us to obtain a picture of the internal organs non invasively using sound waves. It allows us to determine if disease is diffuse (throughout the organ) or focal (in a certain area) and evaluate the gallbladder and bile ducts. Many times we can even obtain cellular samples for biopsy  via needle using the ultrasound to direct us.

Liver Trouble Treated

An accurate diagnosis helps us greatly to best treat your pet’s liver problem. Thankfully, the liver is an organ that is known for being able to bounce back from some pretty severe trouble and if we can give it a boost, many times pets do quite well.

Treatment may include specialized diets, liver supplements, antibiotics (especially in the case of a bacterial infection or leptospirosis), or sometimes even surgery to remove a tumor or treat a congenital issue.

There are times, however, when pet liver problems cannot be cured. We manage these cases by taking steps to prevent the disease from progressing and helping the liver to function as normally as possible. Depending on the disease process, we may need to manage any symptoms that result as well.

Pet liver problems are something all pet owners need to know about, but don’t fret. Many of these issues are quite treatable. Success depends on you, though. Be sure to let us know right away if your pet isn’t doing quite as well as normal and don’t forget to keep up on wellness exams and recommended screening tests. Acting early is key.

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