Pet Nutrition: What to Feed a Dog With Liver Problems

what to feed a dog with liver problems

Nowadays, liver problems are some of the most common health issues that dogs experience. Upon receiving the diagnosis, the most important part of keeping your dog healthy and helping it get through it all is feeding it food suitable for its condition.

So, if you want to learn how best to treat your sickly canine friend, stay tuned. You will find advice on what to feed a dog with liver problems in the sections that follow.

The Role of the Liver

As you probably already know, the liver is one of the most important internal organs for dogs and humans alike. Its main function is collecting and filtering out all the waste and toxins from the body. In addition, the liver produces certain enzymes and substances that aid digestion.

A dog’s liver is divided into two main compartments. They are called the left and right lobes. The lobes work together with the gallbladder and intestines to process food. Throughout it all, the liver produces and secretes bile, which helps the intestines digest fats.

One of the roles of the liver that people often overlook is the fact that it purifies the blood in the digestive system. It prevents blood clots from forming and keeps the blood healthy, helping digestion in that way as well.

All in all, the liver is an intuitive and brilliant organ without which your dog would not be able to live. Since it is so important for different functions, it is no surprise that liver issues manifest through many symptoms. That can, in some cases, make diagnosing liver problems a bit tricky.

Signs and Symptoms of Liver Disease in Dogs

Signs and Symptoms

Here are some of the most common symptoms of liver diseases that your dog might experience:

• Swelling of the abdomen
• Diarrhea (often orange or yellowish in color)
• Jaundice (yellowish gums, eyes, and tongue)
• Blood in the dog’s stool or urine
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Weight loss
• Lethargy
• Increased water consumption
• Unstable walking
• Seizures
• Muscle wastage

Which symptoms your dog will show mostly depends on what type of liver disease you are dealing with and how advanced it is. Regardless of that, it is essential to visit your vet as soon as you notice anything out of the ordinary and in line with the list above.

That way, you will be able to catch the disease early, making the treatment more successful.

4 Types of Liver Diseases in Dogs

4 Types of Liver Diseases

Liver problems can be the result of different conditions and manifest accordingly. Here are some of the most common causes of liver problems when it comes to dogs.

1. Chronic Hepatitis

As far as primary liver diseases go, Hepatitis is the most common one encountered in dogs. It manifests through chronic inflammation, problems with digestion, viral infections, and problems with copper accumulation.

In most cases, a combination of meds is necessary to successfully treat this disease. The meds include NSAIDs, paracetamol, and phenobarbital.

2. Hepatic Encephalopathy

This condition is a combination of neurologic problems that stem from a poorly functioning liver. It occurs when the liver has trouble working through all the waste and toxins in the body, which then start accumulating. From there, the toxins cause a wide range of problems, from blood clots to heart issues.

3. Portosystemic Shunts

Shunts are abnormal connections between the liver and your pet’s systemic circulations. The shunts prevent the liver from absorbing all the toxins and waste it is supposed to purify. Instead, that waste goes directly into your dog’s blood, causing all sorts of problems.

In most cases, this condition is something that dogs are born with. However, it can also develop due to other conditions or some type of physical trauma that a dog suffers.

4. Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure manifests through the liver’s complete inability to perform its function. It usually happens due to trauma to the liver itself (after a car accident, in a lot of cases). However, it can also come about after prolonged liver problems of a different kind (any of the conditions above, for example).

This condition is the worst-case scenario. For a lot of dogs, there is no cure that can actually improve their quality of life.

7 Common Causes of Liver Diseases

7 Common Causes

1. Poor Diet

A poor diet can trigger bad genetics and put a huge strain on the liver. That often happens if your dog is eating foods that are too rich in fats or are otherwise hard to digest. Such foods put pressure on the liver, which cannot keep up with the workload.

That results in excess waste remaining in the body, and that leads to more health problems for your canine friend.

2. Copper Toxicity

Copper accumulation in your dog’s hepatocytes can be another cause of liver disease. When your dog does not eat a diet rich in zinc or has some genetic liver problems, the organ might not be able to absorb and filter copper. Once it starts accumulating in the liver, copper becomes extremely toxic and can lead to extreme liver damage.

3. Endocrine Diseases

In many cases, liver problems are just accompanying symptoms of another disease. It could be anything from diabetes to hyperthyroidism. If your dog is diagnosed with anything similar, your vet will probably monitor its liver closely and give prescriptions to ensure that these conditions do not trigger liver issues as well.

4. Different Infections

Whether your dog has fungal, bacterial, or viral infections, liver problems might arise due to them. In such cases, it is pivotal to support your dog’s immune system as much as possible. That way, you will help your pet’s liver stay healthy as the body slowly recovers from the infection.

5. Severe Physical Trauma

In some cases, liver damage can be the result of an accident that involved your dog’s liver area. Treating and understanding that trauma is essential to getting your dog on the road to recovery.

6. Different Meds

As with humans, consuming pharmaceuticals for a prolonged period can cause liver damage in dogs as well. If your dog has any issues that need to be treated with meds, it is important to come up with a safe way to administer them.

Your vet will have to think of a diet and meds plan that will both help with your dog’s symptoms and prevent liver problems in the future.

7. Stress

As with most conditions out there, stress can always be a contributory factor. Liver diseases are no exception. If your dog is under a lot of stress every day and you aren’t sure how to manage it, that might manifest through poor digestion and liver issues.

Dog Liver Problems Diagnosis

For most types of liver disease, blood tests are enough to establish a diagnosis. Your vet will check liver enzymes and hormone levels to determine what might be amiss. In addition, your vet might also suggest X-rays or an ultrasound. That way, they can check the appearance of the organ as well.

Dog Liver Disease Treatment

For severe liver damage, abdominal surgery is usually the only possible treatment option that can work. A portion of the liver is usually removed, and the organ can regenerate itself in time. In the case of shunts, the abnormal connection is removed, enabling the liver to function normally.

For milder issues, NSAIDs and paracetamol are most often the best solutions. However, they can only work if your dog’s diet is rich and healthy. In fact, making sure your dog eats foods suitable for its size, age, and overall health is the key to keeping its liver healthy.

13 Key Diet Tips for Your Dog

Before getting into any actual recommendations, it is important that you keep one thing in mind. You should not make any decisions about your dog’s diet without consulting your vet first. They will take into account what the liver problems stem from and will make a diet plan accordingly. Here are some of the possibilities that they might suggest.

1. A Fresh Diet Is Essential

Fresh Diet

For your dog’s liver to be under as little pressure as possible, fresh meat and vegetables are a must. Your dog should not consume anything dried, as such foods are often rich in sodium and starch. Both of those can be dangerous for the liver and are extremely hard to digest.

You can both cook the fresh food for your dogs or let them consume it raw. It is all up to your dog’s preferences and how much time you have on your hands. Whatever you go for, the food will be easily digestible for the liver and intestines, which is essential for the liver’s health and preservation.

2. Foods Rich in Zinc Are a Good Choice

As mentioned above, copper can accumulate in the liver if the organ is unable to perform its function fully. In such cases, it is good to give your dog foods rich in zinc, as this mineral can help break down copper to a great extent.

Zinc is abundant in most types of fresh meat, seafood, dairy, vegetables, and grains. Thus, introducing these into your puppy’s diet can help its liver a lot.

3. A High-Fat Diet Is Possible

Most pet parents think that eliminating fats completely will help their dogs. However, that is not the case. What they should actually do is try to replace harmful and heavy fats (omega-6) with healthy ones (omega-3).

Instead of regular fats, try introducing fish or flaxseed oil to your dog’s diet. Most dogs will find foods with these delicious, and their livers will have no trouble filtering through the oils and performing their function well. Giving your dog sardines, for example, will help reduce the inflammation of the liver and help the gallbladder stay healthy as well.

4. Green Vegetables Are Important


Green vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale can help reduce fat buildup in the liver considerably. All three of them contain certain enzymes that contribute to the detoxification of the liver.

5. Certain Fruits Can Protect the Liver

Studies show that all types of berries contain enzymes and anthocyanins that help prevent liver lesions and fibrosis. As such, they can ensure that your dog’s liver tissue remains intact and healthy enough for detoxification to be successful.

6. What About Treats?

For dogs with mild liver problems, treats are still an okay addition to the menu. As long as the treats fit into the diet criteria your vet recommends, you can give them to your dog.

It is also important that you never exceed the daily limit for treats. If you do, you risk giving your dog more fats and protein than is healthy. That can, in turn, put more strain on the liver.

7. Water Is Essential


Your dog needs to drink filtered or bottled water if it is having any liver issues. Tap water contains all sorts of fungicides, pesticides, and other toxins that can be taxing on your pet’s liver.

Moreover, you can add some liquid chlorophyll to your dog’s water if it has low electrolytes. In addition, the chlorophyll can help break down excess ammonia in the body, which can be beneficial for the liver.

If you want to make things a bit more varied and interesting for your dog, you can replace water with a light broth from time to time. Just make sure the broth is not too rich in sodium, and you will be good to go.

8. Your Dog Needs B Vitamins

Vitamins from the B group are extremely important for dogs with liver problems. These vitamins can support liver function, clear out detoxification pathways, and help filter out fats.

This group of vitamins also contains choline. Choline is an essential nutrient for your dog’s liver to help with digestion and create bile. A choline deficiency can lead to something doctors call a “fatty liver,” and it is a condition that can be quite dangerous for dogs. Moreover, choline also prevents your dog from getting dehydrated and losing important fluids.

9. Probiotics Can Be a Good Choice

If your dog has liver issues, your vet might give him some probiotics. These can help with digestion and prevent constipation. That can, in turn, help the liver get some rest and have more energy and strength to perform its function in the future.

Since different infections can also be the source of liver problems, probiotics can help maintain the bacterial balance in your dog’s body. Those beneficial bacteria will produce acids that will prevent a leaky gut and make your dogs feel lighter and more mobile.

10. Ashwagandha Can Be Useful

Ashwagandha is an herb that is used in different forms of alternative medicine. It can help reduce stress and boost your dog’s immune system. As such, it can be quite beneficial for mild liver issues. It is especially useful if your dog’s liver problems stem from stress.

Research shows that this herb can help your dog’s bowels relax and help them digest food faster. That, in turn, allows the liver to breathe a little, thus helping it recover from any damage.

11. Do Not Give Your Dog Unnecessary Meds

As mentioned above, the liver is responsible for clearing out all toxins from your dog’s body. Thus, the more toxins there are, the more strain the liver will be under. And nothing is as toxic as pharmaceuticals.

Thus, you should never give your dog meds without getting strict instructions from your vet to do so. In a lot of cases, your pet will be able to fight off minor colds or digestion issues on its own. If you give out meds for every little symptom, the toxins will slowly accumulate in the body, and the liver will not be able to filter them out.

In addition, checking out some natural or home remedies for different issues is also a good idea. In many cases, those will not put pressure on the intestines and liver, and your dog will recover faster. All in all, remember to always consult your vet about your dog’s problems. That way, you will ensure you do not medicate it without a real reason.

12. Habits Are Important


For dogs with liver problems, forming healthy eating habits is essential for recovery. Instead of giving your dog two or three bigger meals every day, you should start increasing the number of smaller meals. Of course, you should do this slowly so that your dog can get used to it.

Optimally, you should give your dog food around five times a day. The servings should be moderate. If you do so, you will ensure that the liver does not get overwhelmed with the amount of toxins it has to process. Smaller meals will also help the intestines get some rest, as well as be beneficial for the gallbladder.

Apart from the number of meals, variety is important too. Make sure that your dog’s meals are never the same and that they get enough nutrients of all types, from protein to vitamins.

13. Be Careful With Proteins

While proteins can indeed be tricky for the liver to filter, your dog still needs to consume them to live a healthy life. Thus, it is essential that you choose the protein present in eggs and cheese rather than those in red meats. Such proteins are good for the liver and blood vessels, and they do not create blockages of any kind.

Still, red meat should not be off the table completely. Giving it to your dog once or twice a month (or more often if your vet advises so) is more than acceptable. As usual, moderation is the key to a healthy and balanced diet, and dog meal plans are no exception.

Nicole Middleton
Nicole calls herself a typical millennial girl and thrives on her share of social media, celebrity gossip, and all things viral content. She’s a big fan of pop music and plays the guitar as a hobby.