Acute Liver Failure in Dogs


Acute hepatic failure is a condition defined by the abrupt loss of 70 percent or more of the liver’s function due to abrupt, enormous, hepatic necrosis (tissue death in the liver). Find out how to recognize and treat this condition in dogs.

Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs

Primary and secondary hepatobiliary disorders – those dealing with the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts or bile – are normally connected with variable hepatic necrosis. However, acute liver failure from severe hepatic necrosis is an uncommon phenomenon. Intense liver failure can impact the body through a variety of system failures:

  • Gastrointestinal: vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool (hematochezia)
  • Nervous system: hepatic encephalopathy (brain disease associated to liver failure)
  • Hepatobiliary: the liver plus the gallbladder; jaundice, necrosis (tissue death) of the liver cells and bile duct cells
  • Renal: the tubules of the kidney might be injured from toxins/metabolites
  • Immune/Lymphatic/Hemic: imbalances in the blood and lymphatic systems, might lead to coagulant (clotting) complications

Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs

Severe liver failure is most often caused by transmittable agents or contaminants, bad circulation of fluids into the liver and surrounding tissues (perfusion), hypoxia (inability to breathe), drugs or chemicals that are harmful to the liver (hepatotoxic), and excess direct exposure to heat. Necrosis (tissue death) sets in, with loss of liver enzymes and impaired liver function eventually leading to complete organ failure in dogs.

Severe liver failure likewise happens due to comprehensive metabolic conditions in protein synthesis (albumin, transport protein, procoagulant and anticoagulant protein factors), and glucose absorption, along with abnormalities in the metabolic cleansing procedure. If this condition is not treated quickly, it can lead to death.

Diagnosis of Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

Severe liver failure in dogs is identified through a full blood workup (hematology), biochemistry analysis, urine analysis, biopsy (the elimination and analysis of affected tissue), and ultrasound or radiology imaging.

Hematology/biochemistry/urine analyses will test for:

  • Anemia
  • Abnormalities in thrombocytes (clot promoting blood platelets)
  • Abnormally high liver enzyme activity, or liver enzymes spilling out into the bloodstream, indicating liver damage — tests will try to find alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) enzymes in the bloodstream, along with a boost in alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and declining levels of aminotransferases (enzymes that cause the chemical modification of nitrogen carrying amino)
  • Problems of protein synthesis
  • Low blood glucose
  • Normal to low blood urea nitrogen (BUN) concentration (i.e., nitrogen level in the urine)
  • The presence of bilirubin in the urine — the red-yellow bile pigment that is an abject item of the deep red, nonprotein pigment in hemoglobin (the oxygen bring pigment in red blood cells)
  • The presence of ammonium urate crystals in the urine
  • The presence of sugar and granular casts (solid deposits) in the urine, showing internal tubular injury from drug toxicity, such as the drug caused toxicity that impacts some dogs being treated with painkiller (likewise known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDS]

Lab Tests will be used to try to find:

  • High worths of total serum bile acid (TSBA) concentrations, which will suggest liver deficiency. Nevertheless, if non-hemolytic (not devastating to blood cells) jaundice has already been confirmed, TSBA findings will lose their significance in relation to acute liver failure
  • High plasma ammonia concentration; this, in conjunction with high TSBA concentrations, would be strongly indicative of hepatic insufficiency
  • Problems in blood platelets and coagulation (blood clot) elements
  • Tissue necrosis and cell pathology; biopsy (tissue sample) outcomes will verify or negate zonal involvements, and recognize any existing hidden conditions

Imaging tests will try to find:

  • X-rays and ultrasound tests might indicate a bigger liver, and other hepatic irregularities, including conditions that might not be directly associated to the liver

Treating a Dog With Liver Failure

Hospitalization is essential for dealing with intense liver failure. Fluids and electrolytes, in addition to colloid (the gelatinous substance necessary for correct thyroid working) replacements and oxygen supplementation, are crucial elements of treatment and care. Your dog will be placed on limited activity in order to give the liver a chance to regrow. Catheter feeding is suggested for highly unstable patients, while enteric feeding (feeding directly into the intestinal tracts) in small amounts is advised for otherwise steady patients. A normal protein diet with extra vitamins E and K is recommended.

The common medications used for liver failure are antiemetics, drugs for hepatic encephalopathy (brain disease, with or without edema), hepatoprotectants (to reduce the activity of aminotransferases), coagulopathy drugs, and anti-oxidants.

Preventing Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

Immunizing dogs versus the transmittable canine hepatitis virus (a severe liver infection), and avoiding using drugs that have possibly harmful hepatotoxins as ingredients can function as preventives versus acute liver failure.

Also read: Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA) in Dogs


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