HOW TO Treat Liver Disease in Dogs

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Liver Disease in DogsIf your pooch is lethargic, looking a bit yellowish and showing signs of depression, you should take him to the vet immediately, as these are just a few of the symptoms of liver disease in dogs.

Also known as copper storage hepatopathy, liver disease “is a condition caused by an abnormal accumulation of copper in a dog’s liver, which leads to hepatitis and progressive damage and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) over time,” according to “This condition is believed to be secondary to a primary disease, the result of genetic-based abnormal copper metabolism.”

Liver disease commonly affects Bedlington Terriers, Doberman Pinschers and Labrador Retrievers. adds, “In the case of Doberman Pinschers, copper storage hepatopathy is more prevalent in females than males.”

What Can Cause Liver Disease in Dogs?

According to, “No single thing causes liver disease; it can be genetic, infectious, toxic, cancerous or of unknown origin.” lists the following as some of the factors that can cause liver disease:

  • An autosomal recessive trait in Bedlington Terriers due to the lack of a specific gene (COMMD1) coding for a liver protein involved in the excretion of copper in the bile
  • At one time, possibly as many as two-thirds of Bedlington Terriers either were carriers of the gene or were affected by the disease; with recent genetic screening, the incidence is now much lower
  • The prevalence in certain lines of West Highland White Terriers appears to be high, but the incidence in all West Highland White Terriers is low
  • The mode of inheritance in West Highland White Terriers, Skye Terriers and other affected breeds is unknown
  • A reported 4 to 6 percent of Doberman Pinschers may have chronic hepatitis, a sign of copper storage hepatopathy

 What are the Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs?

According to, primary copper liver diseases generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. Subclinical disease, a condition where the disease is present in the organ or body, but not detectable by abnormal signs or changes in the dog.
  2. Acute (sudden) disease, which most frequently affects young dogs and is associated with a condition that causes the death of liver tissue (hepatic necrosis).
  3. Chronic progressive disease, in which symptoms are observed in middle-aged and older dogs with chronic hepatitis, with damage and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).

These diseases may display symptoms such as lethargy, anorexia and depression. Vomiting may occur in either acute or chronic forms.

Additional symptoms include jaundice, anemia, dark urine, excessive thirst and urination, abdominal distention and black or tarry stools. explains, “Dogs with advanced liver disease can develop a debilitating skin disorder referred to as hepatocutaneous syndrome. The reason for this condition is not well-understood, but its symptoms may appear before signs of internal liver disease are apparent.”

Liver DiseaseHow is Liver Disease in Dogs Diagnosed?

You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms.

Be sure to mention when you noticed anything abnormal about your dog to your vet, as it may help to diagnose the underlying issue.

Your vet may perform a serum bile acid concentration test.

“This involves taking one blood sample after the dog has fasted for 12 hours, and another two hours after it is fed a high-fat meal,” according to “Both samples are then tested for bile acid levels. Elevated serum bile acid levels are highly suggestive of clinically relevant liver disease. With widely available, rapid and simple methods for determining serum bile acid concentration, this is a convenient and practical test of liver function in domestic dogs.”

More than half of your dog’s functional liver tissue must have been destroyed before your vet can diagnose liver failure, which means that you’ll need to act quickly once your dog begins to display symptoms.

How is Liver Disease in Dogs Treated?

Many of the treatments available are meant to treat the symptoms more than the root of the condition.

According to, “Making modifications to the dog’s diet and providing it with foods low in copper has proven to be effective in most cases. However, most commercially available diets contain excessive amounts of copper, so follow your veterinarian’s instructions, as they are specifically tailored for your dog. You should also avoid giving your dog mineral supplements containing copper.”

Your vet may provide your dog with antibiotics and corticosteroids, but warns, “Corticosteroids are used in certain cases of liver disease, such as chronic hepatitis, to decrease inflammation and scarring. They also stimulate the appetite and promote an overall feeling of well-being. High doses of corticosteroids can actually cause liver disease; do not give corticosteroids to a pet with liver disease except under the direct supervision of your veterinarian.”

How Can I Prevent My Dog From Developing Liver Disease?

If your dog is one of the breeds that are susceptible to this condition, it is recommended that you have the dog tested for the gene that causes liver disease.

According to, “In the case of Bedlington Terriers, if its liver copper concentration is less than 400 μg/g dry weight at 1 year of age, it is unaffected. There are also liver registries available for these breeds that indicate ‘clean’ lineages, which diminish the probability of receiving a diseased dog.”

PHOTOS: jganderson, 63755252@N05

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

Do you have a question about liver disease? Submit it to i Love Dogs’ Ask a Vet here

Next week: HOW TO Treat Your Dog for Zinc Poisoning

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Kara Ogushi

Contributing writer Kara Ogushi is a pet mom to two dogs and five rabbits. When she isn't writing travel tips for pooches, she's exploring new ways to share and create media.

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