Dog Diet for Liver Disease

Health & Wellbeing
February 7, 2023
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
5 minute read

Dogs with liver disease require a special diet to support their health and manage their symptoms. As pet owners, it's important to understand the impact of nutrition on liver function and how to properly care for a dog with liver disease through their diet. In this blog, "Dog Diet for Liver Disease", we will explore the best foods and feeding practices for dogs with liver disease and how you can help improve their health

The liver is one of the most versatile organs in the body – it not only performs many functions, but it’s also the only organ with the capacity for regeneration.1 This means even after illness or severe damage, the liver can often heal well.

Of the hundreds of jobs the liver performs, perhaps the most important one is the breakdown of nutrients and chemicals that enter the digestive system. The liver is responsible for excreting bile, a digestive fluid that helps process fats, but also for producing a number of proteins and for converting sugar (glucose) into glycogen and then storing it. 

While the liver is an essential part of the digestive system, breaking down the nutrients in food, it also helps break down chemicals, drugs, and even bacteria, and makes sure they are cleared from the body efficiently.2 

When the liver is ill, it often causes a chain reaction that affects other organs. 

What causes liver disease?

Liver disease can be the result of many things – from acute poisoning (after ingesting something toxic) to viral or bacterial infections to trauma. Acute liver failure from poisoning (pesticides, anti-freeze and other chemicals are often a cause of this) or something like an accident requires urgent medical care, but acute liver issues can also be caused by ingesting certain mushrooms, plants and even blue-green algae after going swimming.3 

Diseases like leptospirosis4 (caused by bacteria found in swamps, streams, and rivers) and toxoplasmosis5 (caused by a parasite carried by cats) can also result in liver problems. And dogs can also develop chronic hepatitis. Although more common in certain breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, and Chihuahuas, it can actually occur in any dog – and in many cases, it’s not actually possible to determine the cause. 6

Diabetic dogs are more prone to liver problems, and, although not as common as other types of cancer, liver cancer is also a significant cause of liver disease, especially in older dogs. 7

What are the clinical signs of liver disease?  

Because the liver is a multi-purpose organ, the symptoms of liver disease aren’t always clear. According to PetMD, jaundice (a yellowish coloring that appears in the eyes or gums) is a common sign, but this might not appear until liver disease is advanced, so looking for earlier signs of disease are a better idea. 

Since the liver is connected to the digestive system, gastrointestinal signs can be a sign that something is going with the liver. General symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite or increased thirst could be a sign of many different things, including problems in the liver. Some dogs with liver disease also experience a change in the color of their stool – if you notice your dog’s stool has an orange tint, it’s time to talk to your vet, as this could be a sign of problems with bile production in the liver. 8

According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, dogs can also develop hepatic encephalopathy, a “syndrome of neurologic problems caused by poor liver function.”

Dogs with hepatic encephalopathy can have seizures, develop sudden blindness, act confused or disoriented or experience personality changes. 9

What are the treatment options?

How you treat liver disease will depend on the cause behind it. In acute cases, your dog might need to be hospitalized so he can be stabilized and certain things (like seizures or vomiting) can be addressed. Whether you catch the disease early (through a blood test) or when symptoms are already serious will also affect treatment. 

If the problem was caused by a drug your dog was taking, your vet might need to change it or stop it. He might require antibiotics or supportive care if there’s an underlying illness, or surgery in the case of cysts, cancer or other serious complications. 10  

There are a number of supplements in the market that have been studied and are used widely to help the liver recover. Milk thistle or silymarin has long been used to treat liver issues because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. 11 SAMe or S-adenosyl-methionine also has liver detoxifying properties and has been used extensively to treat liver disease as well as a number of other issues such as cognitive disorders and osteoarthritis. 12

Feeding a dog with liver disease  

Dietary changes are an important part of dealing with liver disease. Most dogs diagnosed with liver disease will need a special diet that still provides all the proper nutrients and calories needed, decreases further damage to the liver, and eliminates anything that might affect the liver. 13

Liver disease requires a diet that’s lower in protein and higher in healthy fats than regular dog food. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “this provides the body with adequate protein to support liver healing, but avoids excessive levels of protein waste that can affect mental function.” 

One of the trickier things about liver disease diets is that they need to contain a lower amount of copper and a higher amount of zinc. According to UC Davis, dogs might store higher amounts of copper as a result of liver disease, which can further damage the liver. So reducing the amount of copper in the diet and increasing zinc (which can help regulate the absorption of copper) are key to a healthy diet. 

Dogs with liver disease can do well on a homemade diet, but it can be difficult to come up with a healthy, well-balanced meal plan that protects the liver. When in doubt, always reach out to a professional. A veterinary nutritionist can help you figure out the right amount of nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and fats your dog should be eating to stay healthy and strong while also protecting the liver. 

Fresh food offers many benefits for a dog with liver disease  

Nutritional management is an effective strategy to handle liver disease – and ideally, this should come in the form of fresh food with no preservatives, artificial products, or animal byproducts so your dog can get excellent nutrition without harmful add-ons. 

As Cola’s Kitchen, all vitamins and minerals are supplied from natural sources. Our meals contain high-quality, human-grade protein at just the right amount, plus a number of veggies and fruits rich in antioxidants that can help protect the liver.

If your dog has been diagnosed with liver disease, always talk to your vet before switching to a new diet to make sure you’re meeting all the right nutritional needs.

about cola's precision diet

Cola's Kitchen precision diet is the first truly tailored diet for a unique approach to nutrition. Our diets are individually formulated and balanced to address the most precise nutritional requirements of your pup.

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