The liver is the largest organ in the body. It has 6 distinct lobes organized into three regions. The healthy liver only uses a small amount of it's full potential at any one time. Unfortunately, because of this reserve power, diseases of the liver are often not diagnosed until the disease is significantly advanced. On a positive note, liver cells can regenerate themselves. This regeneration ability allows a diseased liver to return to normal function in some cases.
Some of the liver's functions are:
Causes of Liver Disease
The symptoms of liver disease are variable and are normally very subtle in the early stages of liver problems. Some dogs show no symptoms early in the course of the disease. The classic symptoms are:
shunts are abnormal vascular connections between the vein that connects the
gastrointestinal tract with the liver (portal vein) and the vein that
carries blood back to the heart (posterior vena cava). A liver shunt causes
the blood in the gastrointestinal system to be diverted past the liver
where it would normally be detoxified before being sent to the rest of the
Shunts can be multiple or single and they can be intrahepatic (within the liver) or extrahepatic (in the blood supply before it enters the liver). Microvascular dysplasia is an unusual form of intrahepatic shunt in which no gross vascular abnormality can be identified. This rare condition is associated with somewhat milder clinical signs.
Most portosystemic shunts are congenital, although they may be acquired secondary to liver disease. The prevalence of congenital portosystemic shunts in certain breeds suggests an inherited predisposition. Breeds that are predisposed include Irish wolfhounds, Maltese, Yorkshire terriers, Miniature schnauzers, Australian cattle dogs, Retrievers, Cairn terriers and Old English sheepdogs.
The symptoms of a PSS are usually present by the time a dog is six months old but may not be recognized until middle age. Symptoms include depression, seizures, loss of muscle control, vomiting, excessive thirst and urination and stunted growth.
Medications and diet may be helpful, however, surgery to close off the shunt is the only way to totally eliminate the problem. Non-surgical treatment may include:
Chronic active hepatitis is a series of different liver diseases with similar characteristics when analyzed under the microscope. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can be caused by an infection, drugs like Phenobarbital, trauma, bacteria and toxins. As hepatitis progresses, normal liver cells are replaced with fibrous tissue. Eventually the blood flow through the liver is compromised. After a variable period of time liver failure often develops.
The treatment of chronic active hepatitis starts with eliminating the offending drug or toxin if it's known. Antibiotics that have minimal need for liver metabolism are used to control bacterial infections. Dietary modification would include a diet restricted in protein. The protein needs to be of high biological value such as eggs and dairy products. Meat based proteins should be avoided since they may increase the chance of hepatic encephalopathy. Ulcer medications may make a dog more comfortable and more inclined to eat. Additional liver specific drugs may be used. Corticosteroids are used if there is evidence that the immune system is implicated as a cause of the liver disease. Ursodiol replaces toxic bile acids with a type of bile that is less toxic. Milk Thistle a natural supplement may be used to stimulate the liver to produce new cells.
Liver Disease POTPOURRI, July 2000 Newsletter
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Last Updated August 2009