End Stage Liver Disease

The liver rests in the abdomen just behind the diaphragm. The liver has many functions: protein, sugar, and fat metabolism, detoxification, and storage of vitamins and minerals. Because the liver receives, filters, and detoxifies a tremendous amount of blood continuously, it is susceptible to inflammation. While the liver has a tremendous capacity to repair itself, chronic undetected liver inflammation may eventually cause irreversible damage. Dogs with early stages of liver disease may not show obvious outward signs of a problem; the liver problem may be found incidentally on routine blood work. Dogs with end stage liver disease suffer symptoms related to the liver’s inability to perform its functions: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, bleeding tendencies, jaundice (yellow color to skin and eyes), behavior changes, and in severe cases, seizures. End stage liver disease is diagnosed with blood work, abdominal ultrasound, and ultimately liver biopsies. At this final stage, it may not be possible to determine the inciting cause of the liver disease. Treatment of end stage liver disease includes symptomatic therapy with nutritional support, antioxidant therapy, anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant medications, and/or fluid therapy. The key to better outcomes from liver disease is early detection. Breeds with a genetic predisposition (e.g.: Bedlington Terriers, West Highland White Terriers) to liver disease benefit from regular wellness testing with a complete blood count, chemistry profile, and urinalysis.

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