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Beware of giving your dog too much of this popular liver treat

Beware of giving your dog too much of this popular liver treat

 Is your dog at risk of liver treat toxicity? 

Being a dog lover or a veterinarian requires building a good rapport with dogs. Some dogs are social butterflies, while others take a little more convincing. Treats are one of the ways to connect with dogs and allow us to handle them and perform treatments when necessary.

For most dog lovers, treats are one of the ways we tell our dogs that we love them. Even complete strangers carry a few treats in their pockets to connect with dogs and their humans. I have always been a little conflicted about allowing others to give treats to my dogs. Poor quality Milk Bones and other treats are commonplace in stores, officesand hotels, and most dogs are crazy about junk food.

“Just one” turns into many treats, and because I wanted to protect my previous dog Skai, and now Pax, from junk food, I developed a strategy of asking people not to give him treats. To prevent disappointment on both sides, I usually carried safer and healthier treats in my pocket to pass them onto the giver so that he or she could give them to Skai. (For an article on choosing safe treats for your dog, click here.)

LIVER TREATS ARE THE MOST POPULAR BUT POTENTIALLY TOXIC TREAT

The purpose of this article is to warn against giving pets too much of one treat that can be harmless in small amounts but toxic when it is frequently given - dehydrated liver.

Nutritionally, liver is a rich source of essential nutrients such as amino acids and fat. It is also a rich source of some vitamins and minerals such as A, B6, B12, C, D, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and selenium. Naturally, liver is relatively small portion of canine diet.

Functionally, the key role of the liver is to detox blood and the body, produce vitamins and amino acids, and manage nutrients and energy resources for the rest of the body. The organ’s function is also to neutralize countless artificial and toxic chemicals from food and the environment, which is no easy task. This is why so many dog lovers see such positive results when they take their dogs through a semi-annual liver cleanse.

In the course of the last two decades, more people have tried to stay away from junky processed treats and go to single source meat or organ treats. This is one of the reasons why dehydrated liver has become one of the most popular items on the pet store shelves. Unfortunately, the popularity of liver treats has led to a new problem most dog lovers are unaware of: vitamin A hypervitaminosis, or so-called liver poisoning.

HOW DOES HYPERVITAMINOSIS HAPPEN?

The main cause of this condition is feeding large quantities of liver, which is a very rich source of vitamin Aa member of the group of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. In the right amounts, Vitamin A is beneficial, but an overdose of Vitamin A can have a harmful effect because an excess of fat-soluble vitamins are much more difficult to eliminate than, for example, water-soluble vitamins B and C. 

The reasons why liver treats, especially the dehydrated ones, put our dogs in danger of hypervitaminosis A are that they are greatly reduced in volume during dehydration, and they contain ten times or more vitamin A then raw liver or cooked liver.

I have seen people giving their dogs large amounts of liver treats daily or on a very regular basiswhich leads to problems.

THE SYMPTOMS OF HYPERVITAMINOSIS A

An excess of vitamin A causes disturbances in bone metabolism, increased bone resorption, and decreased bone production. This can lead to osteoporosis, spontaneous bone fractures, elevated blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia), and abnormal joint calcification.

Another symptom of hypervitaminosis A is a disturbance in absorption and function of other fat-soluble vitamins - D, E and K.

Under normal circumstances, dogs need vitamin A, and it is OK to give vitamin supplements with fermented vitamins. However, nature never counted on dogs getting large amounts of liver in the form of treats, and that is a big problem. 

DIAGNOSIS OF LIVER TREAT TOXICITY - HYPERVITAMINOSIS A

In general, diagnosis is not a straightforward process.  Radiographs, blood calcium, cholesterol, liver enzymes, and finally vitamin A (retinol) levels help to diagnose the condition.

TREATMENT AND PREVENTION OF LIVER TREAT TOXICITY

If your dog likes liver treats, do not give it more than a couple of pieces a week, especially if the treats are dehydrated.

If you have been feeding your dog a large amount of dehydrated liver treats, and your dog does not show any symptoms:

Stop giving liver treats completely for at least three to six months

  1. Perform a liver cleanse
  2. Continue giving essentials such as Omega-3 oil, mineral-rich green superfood for additional gentle cleansing and providing your dog with necessary minerals and amino-acids to boost healthy metabolism.
  3. After the first three months, you can introduce an organic fermented multi-vitamin for dogs to provide a balanced vitamin spectrum with carefully calibrated levels of fat-soluble vitamins.
  4. Make dehydrated meat treats in place of liver. Generally, it is cheaper and safer to make them at home. If you buy treats in a pet store, always buy locally made products without chemicals or preservatives. 

If your dog shows symptoms of possible hypervitaminosis A:

Implement steps one to four, PLUS

  1. See your veterinarian and request radiographs and necessary blood tests.
  2. If your dog’s diagnosis is confirmed, recheck radiographs in three to six months post-diagnosis.
  3. Introduce preventive measures and learn how to recognize symptoms of joint inflammation (arthritis), especially if your dog showed symptoms of joint calcification.
  4. Share this article with others who may not be aware of the dangers of overfeeding liver treats.

Liver Treats short FAQ

Are liver treats good for dogs?
Liver treats are a great source of protein, which can help keep your dog strong and healthy. Beef liver, in particular, is a favorite among dogs and provides healthy fats and vitamin A. In addition, these treats are packed with essential minerals like iron, copper, and zinc that are necessary for your dog's well-being.
Can dogs have liver treats everyday?
While liver is a good nutritious food for dogs, overfeeding it in large portions can lead to issues. Nevertheless, liver offers numerous benefits that can promote your dog's well-being and demonstrate your care for them as a beloved member of the family.
What happens if A dog eats too many liver treats?
Liver can be a beneficial addition to your dog's diet in moderation, but excessive consumption can result in nutritional issues due to its high concentration of vitamin A. When consumed in large amounts, vitamin A can lead to hypervitaminosis A, a condition caused by vitamin A toxicity.
Which liver is best for dog treats?
If you're looking for bite-sized liver treats for your dog, consider using chicken, beef, or turkey livers. They can be dehydrated whole or halved, which requires less slicing compared to other types of liver. To make slicing even easier, it's best to cut the liver while it's still partially frozen.
How much liver can I give my dog?
A medium-sized dog should be given a maximum of 1 ounce of beef liver per day. A small breed dog, on the other hand, would only need approximately 1/5 of an ounce daily, whereas a large dog can consume 2 to 2.5 ounces per day of liver treats.
Do liver treats give dogs diarrhea?
Loose stool in dogs can stem from various factors such as excessive liver treat or dairy intake, or a general sense of discomfort. If the issue persists for more than two days, it's important to rule out the presence of Coccidia and Giardia.
Is liver better for dogs raw or cooked?
Incorporating liver into a balanced whole food diet is beneficial for dogs, but it should be fed raw and should not exceed 10% of their overall diet. It can be given as a small amount each day or once a week. Liver is rich in essential vitamins such as A, B, B1, B12, and K, as well as trace elements such as Choline, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium, Cobalt, and amino acid Cysteine.

© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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