Liver Problems In Dogs: Liver Disease and Diet
Allow me to disagree with some of my colleagues who claim that a raw food diet for dogs is a fad. In over three decades of clinical practice, I am certain that feeding a raw diet cures many ailments, and also helps dogs with liver disease.
Dog lovers are starting to realize that feeding raw food is one of the most effective ways to keep your dog's liver healthy, in addition to providing fermented herbal liver support supplement.
Assessing liver health
The liver has several main functions:
It is a cleansing organ that rids the body of toxins through chemical transformation or excretion in bile
Bile also aids in digestion of fats
The liver produces glycogen, a starch analogue, which serves as energy storage
The liver is responsible for protein production
The level of hepatic (liver) activity can be determined by evaluating liver enzymes through a blood test.
ALT (Alanine Aminotransferase) is the most important enzyme in the assessment. It's also sometimes called SGPT (serum glutamic-pyruvic transaminase). ALT is almost exclusively found within hepatocytes (liver cells). An increase in ALT is highly specific to liver cell injury in dogs and cats.
AST (Aspartate Aminotransferase) activity primarily reflects liver and muscle disease, with less specificity to the liver than ALT. It can be elevated by liver infections, chronic non-infectious inflammation or degeneration of the liver.
GGT (Gamma Glutamyl Transferase) is usually elevated in cases of cholestasis (bile stagnation) in the liver or by obstructed bile ducts.
ALP (Alkaline Phosphatase) may also be elevated in the case of liver disease, drug administration or any inflammatory processes in the body. This enzyme doesn’t have a great practical use in liver function evaluation.
Sometimes even healthy dogs may have elevated liver enzymes (ALT) without necessarily suffering from liver disease. This may be what I call ‘normal-abnormal’. As a rule of thumb, the ALT should not be higher than double the normal reference range. Some dogs may naturally have higher enzymatic activity which is relatively common in healthy dogs on raw food.
To summarize, ALT levels or values from upper normal to twice the normal are so called grey zone, where liver disease may or may not be the cause. In this case I recommend careful evaluation of your dog’s clinical condition by your veterinarian which may include physical exam, radiographs, ultrasound and further blood testing.
Values higher than two times the normal ALT range suggest high probability of liver disease and further medical attention is likely needed.
NOTE: I don't mention specific ALT range and units here as they vary from lab to lab and country to country.
Keep your dog’s liver in top notch shape
A liver cleanse is one of the most important elements for creating a healthy and long life for your dog. To be sure your dog’s liver is functioning optimally, I recommend the following liver cleansing protocol.
If you are not ready to feed raw, the first step is to feed the highest quality, non-medicated, unprocessed, raw or cooked food. Feeding most processed food or raw food made of medicated chicken, turkey and poor-quality, rendered meats can cause serious problems, nutritional deficiencies and can also overburden the liver.
Avoid processed prescription liver diets
Processed pet food giants have long seen the opportunity of selling exclusive veterinary diets for the treatment of liver disease. All you need to do is to check the ingredients and you will see what is really going on:
"Brewers Rice, Pork Fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), Dried Egg Product, Soybean Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Flaxseed, Pork Protein Isolate, Chicken Liver Flavor, Dicalcium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Soybean Oil, Potassium Chloride, Dried Beet Pulp, Calcium Carbonate, Glycerol Monostearate....."
Really? Pork fat for liver disease?
In my opinion, low protein food is harmful considering the ingredients. Feeding such a diet is like trying to purify drinking water by pouring sewage in it!
Practical steps for a dog liver cleanse:
The liver is an important organ in almost every aspect of your dog’s organ function and good health. You will see that doing a cleanse twice a year has a very positive effect on your dog's health, namely in their overall energy level, mobility, digestion, endurance and stamina, skin and coat health, immune system function and cancer prevention.
Even if your dog doesn’t have any liver enzyme elevation, a liver detox every six to 12 months is highly beneficial in dogs. Canines in general, have a tendency for liver imbalances.
Feed lower fat meats. Avoid rich and greasy meats such as duck, fatty lamb, bison, buffalo and beef or meat rendered from meat-packing plants. We also recommend avoiding kibble and canned food.
Avoid feeding large marrow bones, which have extremely high-fat content.
Beware of cheap treats, even if they are natural. If it's too cheap, it's likely because the ingredients are cheap too.
Avoid any food made in China because of that country's history of tainted foods and heavy use of additives and chemical preservatives.
Start a six week course of Liver Support and Cleanse (LiverTune) - a liver cleansing herbal formula that I've found very effective.
Administer and continue giving GreenMin on an ongoing basis to detox and provide essential minerals and nutrients.
After the liver cleanse is completed start essential supplements to provide the body what it needs to heal and thrive.
If your dog has elevated liver enzymes to any degree, measure ALT values at least every three to six months depending on the severity of the problem and seek the help of an experienced animal care provider.
If the ALT values do not start dropping within three months, start Zyflamend. I have seen this product reduce ALT by half in some very severe hepatitis cases. Continue this product for two months after the liver enzymes are back to normal.
Should supplements be given during a liver cleanse?
- If your dog has never been on any supplements, try the Healthy Dog Tool for the best way to introduce our supplements
Note about liver cleansing foods
There are some foods known to have a highly positive effect on the liver.
Bile flow and liver flow can be promoted by adding leafy greens and also watercress, basil and turmeric.
You can harmonize the liver by adding apple cider vinegar (1/4 tsp to 1 tsp) into food to promote cleansing.
Romaine lettuce, dandelion leaves and chamomile flowers also have a positive effect on the liver.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM