The liver is the dog’s largest internal organ, and canines rely heavily upon it to detoxify, purify and rid the body of any waste or toxins. Therefore, liver failure is highly dangerous for the dog, as the disease affects many other organs in the body. Liver disease is not considered a common ailment that most dogs experience, however it is unfortunately the fifth primary cause of death in canines.


Trauma: Any wound to the abdominal area can cause liver rupture or bleeding which can result in liver disease. This often occurs with accidents, such as being hit by a car, or when a dog experiences heatstroke.

Medications: Certain prescribed drugs also can lead to liver disease. Be careful to avoid: acetaminophen, anesthetics, cortisone, even some antibiotic medications can be dangerous, etc.

Infectious Hepatitis: Liver inflammation is another word for hepatitis. Infectious Hepatitis is the result of contracting the herpes virus, or adenovirus which can be transmitted between dogs orally. Some dogs are also likely to suffer from hereditary diseases like Chronic Hepatitis, or an overload of copper in the liver.

Bacteria: Viruses, fungi, parasites and toxins: Exposure to viruses, parasites, bacteria and fungi can lead to liver disease. These can be transferred through contaminated water, open wounds, and infected animals and people. Dogs may also develop the disease by being exposed to pesticides, bleach, household detergents, etc. When a canine is overexposed to toxins, or fungi he runs the risk of straining or damaging his liver.

Heartworms: The small parasites can inhibit blood flow from the heart to the liver, and can lead to liver failure as a result.

Other causes: Cancer, pancreatitis, hepatoportalfibrosis, metabolic diseases, and diabetes, etc. There are also a number of emerging diseases which can cause liver disease; refer to the full list provided by the Canine Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF) for more details.


Dogs with liver disease may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • decreased appetite, rapid weight loss or “wasting away”
  • abdominal and digestive issues (such as diarrhea, constipation and vomiting)
  • jaundice (yellowish tint of skin and eyes)
  • lethargy
  • aimless walking
  • disinterestedness about outings, walking, playing
  • swollen abdomen
  • dark urine/ pale feces
  • drinking and urinating with more frequency


Treating canine liver disease will vary based on what caused the illness. For example, if an accident occurred or there is trauma/wounding to the liver, the dog will need to be hospitalized and monitored during his recovery.

Fluid Replenishment & Rest: Dogs are often given electrolytes intravenously to fight dehydration and replenish potassium, chloride, and sodium. If the disease is not too far advanced, usually rest and rejuvenation will allow the liver to repair itself.

Lifestyle changes: This would include adjusting the diet by monitoring the amount of proteins, carbs, fats and vitamins the dog is consuming; and employing herbs and remedies to help improve the detoxifying process .Some of these remedies might include: vitamin K, vitamin E (which increases production of new liver cells, and eliminates free radicals to decreased the oxidative harm inflicted on the liver). Other helpful remedies are milk thistle, burdock, and greater celandine, which cleanse the blood.   Some vets also prescribe detoxifying enemas which help rid bacteria from the intestines.

Vaccinations: If the cause of the liver disease is infectious hepatitis, this can be treated through vaccinations for hepatitis and leptospirosis.

Paraciticides: When the liver illness is due to an infection or infestation of bacteria and parasites, veterinarians might employ the use of parasiticides to rid the body of any parasites.

Antibiotics: These are administered at the discretion of the vet, who will be able to determine how best to diminish the bacteria in the organ and bloodstream. In some extreme cases surgery and long term monitoring recovery are required.

To help guard your dog against developing canine liver disease, refer to the CLDF Preventative Maintenance page to learn what further measures may be taken in protecting your pet.