- protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism
- filtering the blood
- breaking down and eliminating drugs and toxic substances
- producing bile that is needed for proper digestion
- making many coagulation factors necessary for normal blood clotting
- storing vitamins and other important nutrients
Inflammatory disorders, infections, cancer, toxic exposures, drug administration, metabolic diseases, birth defects, and other health issues can all disrupt these functions. A complete work up that includes a physical examination, blood work, abdominal x-rays and ultrasound, and a liver biopsy is usually necessary to determine the underlying cause of a pet’s liver disease.
The symptoms of liver dysfunction are similar regardless of the primary disease that is involved. Dogs and cats typically develop some combination of lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and urination, weight loss, and a yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes. In advanced stages, liver disease can cause a distended abdomen, abnormal bleeding, disorientation, abnormal behavior, and seizures.
Whenever possible, treatment should be aimed at the underlying cause of a pet’s liver disease, but general liver support to aid in the recuperation and regeneration of liver tissue is also very important. Nutritional supplements for liver health in pets play an important role in this regard. Ingredients to look for include milk thistle (or its active ingredients silybin and silymarin) and s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). These compounds have proven to be safe and effective in multiple scientific studies and are widely prescribed by veterinarians for the treatment of liver disease in dogs and cats.
SAMe has been shown to improve the functioning of liver cells and is a potent anti-oxidant that can protect the liver from the damage caused by free radicals. Research has indicated that SAMe may help promote bile flow through the liver in cats. Milk thistle (silybin/silymarin) is also an antioxidant, but it promotes the production of protein by liver cells, which is critical to cell regeneration, decreases inflammation, and stimulates the flow of bile through the liver as well.
The prognosis for some types of liver disease is good when pets are diagnosed in a timely manner and appropriate treatment begins before too much of the organ is damaged. The liver is very resilient and is often able regenerate itself as long as some healthy tissue remains. If you suspect that your dog or cat might have liver disease, make an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she is in the best position to develop an individualized treatment plan for your pet.