How to improve your pet’s liver function

If you are reading this article, you might be concerned because your pet has blood test results that are less than ideal.
Maybe your vet has made recommendations.
Maybe you want to increase the chances of your pet living a happy, longer, and fulfilling life.
Whatever your reasons, getting your pet’s liver to good health, will ensure peace of mind and comfort for both you and your pet.

What does the liver do, and where is it located?

The liver is the largest organ in your pet’s body.
It filters blood and is essential for life.
It has amazing regenerative abilities and can bounce back from injury.
The liver lies horizontally in the front of the stomach, towards the right.
It lies directly behind the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the chest from the stomach) and in front of the abdomen.

What makes the liver so important?

It controls various components in the blood.
It produces cholesterol and lipoproteins and distributes fat through the blood.
It excretes bile, which helps to break down fat.
It helps to produce important proteins such as albumin, and those instrumental in clotting.
It converts excess glucose into glycogen (which is stored in the liver). Glycogen serves as an energy storehouse later.
It regulates amino acid levels in the blood.
It stores iron which helps to process haemoglobin.
It converts blood ammonia to urea, which can safely pass out of the system.
It helps the body resist infections by building immunity and filtering out the bacteria in the body.

How do you test liver function?

First, do these:

Observe Your Pet:

Has your cat or dog suddenly lost weight or appetite?
Are they showing signs of excess confusion?
A telling sign of liver disease is definitely yellowish eyes, tongue, and gums. When in doubt, do a blood test.

  • Blood Tests & Urinalysis:

Blood tests need to be done once liver disease is suspected. Some of the important values to look out for include:

ALT (Alanine aminotransferase)/SGPT: This is a liver enzyme that is produced when there has been some damage to liver cells. A value 2 -3 times above the norm is significant.

Alkaline phosphatase (ALP): ALP is related to bile ducts, and elevated levels indicated cholestasis.

GGT (Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase): Elevated levels are related to cholestatic disease, and abnormal liver function.

Serum protein:

Serum Albumin: Albumin is made in the liver, So reduced levels will indicate a liver function disorder, and may also show that there is some protein malnutrition.

Serum Globulin: Lower levels of globulin mean there is inflammation in the liver.

Bilirubin: When bilirubin is found in canine urine it may develop even before signs of jaundice occur. In feline urine, the appearance of bilirubin will always be abnormal, and definitely must be looked into.

Cholesterol: Low serum cholesterol can occur in pets with some degree of liver failure. In cats, higher values can indicate bile duct obstruction.

  • Vet consultation:

a licensed professional exam is needed to confirm symptoms, and make a diagnosis, as well as to prescribe tests, medicines and procedures needed. Don’t just rely on the internet!

Further investigations:

  • X rays, ultrasound
  • CT scans, MRIs, dye contrast MRIs
  • Liver biopsy: the most conclusive method to determine exactly what is wrong with your pet’s liver. It is often done by exploratory laparotomy or through ultrasound guidance.

How to start the healing process:

Food is processed through the liver. The first step to healing the liver is to put your pet on a diet of food that is easy to digest and make the liver work less. This is particularly important when the liver is malfunctioning because nutrition from the food passing through it won’t be absorbed easily.

Special Dietary Recommendations for Liver-Afflicted Pets:

Energy:
Pets prone to anorexia will need an energy-dense diet.
If they refuse to eat, they may need feeding tubes to deliver food to them, though these are not a permanent solution.
Overweight pets should discontinue weight-loss plans until their liver condition is resolved.

Carbohydrates:
Because of a malfunctioning liver, pets can experience wide fluctuations in blood sugar. For hypoglycaemic pets, increase the carbohydrates (highly digestible food such as white rice, and not complex carbohydrates) in their diet.
Adjust carbohydrate levels in your pet according to its specific needs.
Soluble carbohydrates can be tricky for anorexic patients, as nutritional imbalances can occur.

Fiber:

Soluble fiber can help reduce ammonia production and expel bile acid.
Psyllium husk is an ideal soluble fiber.

Fat:
Fat should be added to the diet with caution in the following cases: overweight pets, pancreatitis, hyperlipidaemia, and cholestatic disease.
The ideal pet diet should always be low in fat.

Protein:
The ideal protein concentration for dogs is 51.4 g/day per 1000 kcal.
The ideal protein concentration for cats is 65g/day per 1000 kcal.
You only have to reduce protein in the diet if your pet exhibits signs of hepatic encephalopathy (HE).
In case of hepatic encephalopathy, taurine and arginine supplements are necessary, if there isn’t already enough in the diet: 50 to 1000 mg for cats and small dogs, 1000 to 2000 mg for large dogs.

Vitamin and minerals:
Vitamin K needs to be supplemented in pets with bile duct obstruction, or those who are taking antibiotics. This means 1 to 5 mg/day of vitamin K1.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C supplementation can help pets with liver disease. In pets with copper storage disease, avoid vitamin C supplements.
Avoid salt to reduce fluid retention.

More Tips for Handling Copper Storage Disease:

  • Avoid liver, organ meats, shellfish, legumes, nuts, and mushrooms.
  • Copper chelation therapy help to reduce copper from copper storage disease. It’s logical that in this case, copper should be kept to a minimum, i.e. less than 5mg/kg.
  • Zinc will help to reduce the absorption of copper, especially zinc acetate and zinc gluconate.

Other supplements:

Supplements containing S-Adenosyl methionine (20 mg per kg per day) and Silymarin (50 – 250 mg per day) are a good option.

What Can Improve Your Pet’s Liver Function:

  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • SAM-e
  • Silybin, an active part of Silymarin (milk thistle) helps to support liver function
  • Ursodiol
  • Vitamin K, unless the food is already vitamin K-fortified.

Dogs

What (problems) to look out for:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting/Diarrhea
  • Hypoxia (oxygen deprivation)
  • Polyuria (excessive urination)
  • Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
  • Increased thirst
  • Wobbly gait
  • Increased urination
  • Confusion
  • Yellowish eyes/tongue/ gums – jaundice
  • Weakness
  • Blood in his urine/feces
  • Ascites (swollen belly due to fluid)

More serious complications:

  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Congenital absence of enzymes that convert ammonia to urea. Dalmatians could be prone to this condition.
  • Portal vein defects that result in toxic levels of certain components in the blood.
  • Protozoal, viral, parasitic and bacterial infections
  • Hepatic lipidosis due to diabetes
  • Steroid hepatopathy
  • Hepatotoxins
  • Chronic, active hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis: Liver scarring
  • Cholangiohepatitis (rare)
  • Liver tumors
  • Clotting disorders

Easy-on-the-Liver Canine Diet:

  • Feed your pet several small meals in a day instead of three big ones.
  • White fish and eggs are great additions.
  • Certain dairy products such as yogurt are low in fat and have probiotics, and they are a little easier to digest than other products.
  • Oatmeal, with its soluble fiber, is easy for the liver to process.

The less pressure exerted on the liver for digestion, the better it will function, especially when it is recovering from one of the many disorders listed above.

Cats

What (problems) to look out for:

  • Defects in the portal vein: resulting in a build-up of toxic chemicals in the blood.
  • Protozoal, viral, parasitic and bacterial infections.
  • One such disease peculiar to cats is the feline infectious peritonitis virus.
  • Hepatotoxins
  • Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy liver cells due to chronic, liver disease.
  • Cats can contract two forms of cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of bile-carrying structures): in one version there is inflammation of the bile carrying structures and the surrounding liver tissue.
  • Another version of the disease is not contracted through infection and could be because of compromised lymphocytes.
  • Tumors can develop in the liver.
  • In cats, lymphosarcoma cancer is often associated with infections such as feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.

Easy-on-the-liver feline diet:

  • Cats with liver disease cannot absorb the amino acids in food, so a balanced diet containing high-protein.
  • If your cat has an ailing liver, it probably won’t have much of an appetite.
  • To make sure they get nutrients, try short and frequent meals.
  • Meals should be low in salt and sodium.
  • The diet should be low in high-fat foods, fish meal, brains, kidneys, foods containing fish meal.
  • Supplements and multivitamins may be added as needed.
  • Recommended foods include cottage cheese, eggs, rice, liver, and organic foods free of preservatives and chemicals.
  • If you’re having trouble feeding your cat appetite stimulants might help him get his appetite back.
  • Food should be easy to swallow and digest, so it should ideally be wet, not dry.
  • Should your cat completely lose its appetite, a feeding tube may be used to force feed it temporarily.

Force feeding is not a viable long-term solution.

None of us wants to see our beloved pets ill or in discomfort. If your canine or feline has a bad liver, it is best to act quickly and follow the steps above. Never fear, there is always hope.


Tanya’s Bio:
I’m a Content Writer and Growth Strategist with Airtract.com. I love animals, especially dogs, and have a pug of my own. I’m interested in animal health and behavior, and feel that every pet should live the best life ever!

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