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The liver is an internal organ located at the right side of the body of all vertebrates. It is irregularly shaped like the silhouette of a conch, and is situated behind the lowest ribs. It works with other organs like the intestines by secreting bile into it in order to break down fats. The entire body benefits from the main function of the liver. It filters the blood coming from the digestive tract before distributing it to the all the other organs of the body including the brain. As blood passes through the liver, chemicals that it carries get broken down. Toxins from the chemicals that get broken down by the liver are transported to the urinary tract and excreted by peeing while the rest goes back into the bloodstream. As it is in all vertebrates, it is a vitally important organ for dogs. If some of its functions do not work efficiently, it can cause sickness and pain to our dogs.
To put it simply, a liver disease means that one or more of the functions of the liver is not efficiently performed. Viruses, for example, cause swelling of the liver. This swelling constricts or obstructs veins that are necessary for the transportation of blood it filters. This viral swelling is called Hepatitis. Other than viruses, hepatitis has other external causes including continuous medication, allergic reactions, and obesity. Hepatitis, excessive iron deposits, genetic diseases, and bile infection from gallstones that block the bile duct draining the liver can cause liver failure; long-term liver ailments such as these lead to permanent scarring called cirrhosis, compromising its functions. Cirrhosis often causes the most difficult liver disease to treat: liver cancer. In dogs, liver diseases such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer are some of the most common ailments that cause death
Liver disease can be painful, and unlike humans who can rate the pain from 1 to 10, all dogs can do is to endure the illness. It’s a good thing that even though liver is an internal organ, dogs do not suffer in silence when inflicted with a disease; their bodies show visible signs and warnings that when owners spot, can allow for pre-diagnosis. Pre-diagnosis is crucial because dog owners who get to make them from early signs of a possible liver disease can seek medical treatment and administer medications for our suffering dogs, while those who don’t prolong and increase the pain that our fur friends experience. Symptoms of liver diseases are easy to spot for attentive dog owners. The first stages of liver diseases can often be treated and managed, which is why so much depends on spotting their first signs. External manifestations such as the yellowing of the eyes, tongue, or gums are the easiest signs to spot in dogs. Other immediate external manifestations of liver disease in dogs include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, and blood in pee or poop. We should closely observe and look out for weight loss, increased thirst, increased need to pee, and confusion, as these manifest gradually and need more time to draw conclusions from.
It would be easy to know when our dogs need professional medical care if we also know what visible signs of internal symptoms to look for. For example, one internal sign of liver disease is pain in the right side of the belly. Since dogs cannot tell us what hurts or where it hurts, internal signs are more difficult to spot. However, this internal pain causes weakness and an unstable walk which manifests externally, therefore making it visible to dog owners. Another internal symptom is ascites. It is the build-up of fluid in the belly as a result of cirrhosis. If a dog is suffering from any of the aforementioned visible signs, and its belly begins to swell up and become heavy, chances are this is a manifestation of ascites.
As it is in humans, liver diseases in dogs give punishing discomfort that can lead to death at its worst. It’s extremely important to be observant at all times and seek professional help as soon as we notice even just a couple of the early external signs of liver disease. If a dog's liver disease isn't treated early due to the owner’s failure to pre-diagnose, it can lead to high concentrations of toxins in its bloodstream that will ultimately lead to the decline of some of the brain’s functions. This brain condition is called hepatic encephalopathy which may cause the dog with a severe liver disease to fall into a coma which can be fatal.
While it is important to know what signs of liver diseases to spot in dogs, it is more important to know how to prevent it. In order to prevent these diseases from making their way into our dogs’ body, it is essential to know what cause them. Because the primary external causes of liver diseases in dogs, as in humans, are poor diet and low exercise, studies recommend a balanced diet rich in vitamins A, D, E, and B12. These vitamins can naturally be found in fresh vegetables, non-citrus fruits, almond milk, meat, and grains like brown rice, whole grain breads, barley, and cereals to provide the fiber needs of dogs. Since dehydration prohibits the liver to function properly, dog owners should always have clean and cold drinking water, ready for dogs to drink. Since obesity is one of the external causes of liver diseases, studies also recommend 30 minutes to 2 hours of exercise per day. Other than external causes like virus continuous use of medication, allergic reactions, excessive iron deposits, and obesity, biological factors that increase the chances of getting liver diseases also come into play. In combination with the external causes or on their own, liver disease can inflict dogs due to old age, genetic code, and trauma in the area.
Although athletic dogs with relatively healthier lifestyles have less chances of contracting liver disease from low exercise and obesity, if they are curious and tend to wander around, they may come across toxic herbs, mushrooms, and blue-green algae that can harm and inflame the liver. To prevent this from happening, dog owners who live by the woods should be able to keep the dog indoors or on a leash if they cannot closely watch the dog. No matter how active some dogs are, dog owners who reward them with excessively sweet and fatty foods also put their dogs at risk of liver disease. To prevent this tendency, train dogs to have a well-balanced diet made up of fresh ingredients. Once dogs get used to their healthy and balanced diet, they may benefit if owners give them bits of food they regularly eat. This will limit the treats dogs consume to healthier options like fruits instead of commercially available sweet and fatty treats. It is important that the vet is aware of any drugs or supplements we plan on letting our dogs take even before we make our purchases as some of these may contain high doses of certain components that are not suited for our dogs’ body mass index.
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