Liver dis-ease in dogs

by Dr. Jeannie Thomason

Liver Dis-Ease in Dogs – Natural Help for Support and Healing

Liver dis-ease is more and more prevalent these days.  Find out why and how to help support and heal your dog if they have been diagnosed with liver disease.

The diagnosis of Liver dis-ease is a term applied to any medical disorder affecting the liver and usually causing elevated blood levels of liver enzymes.

I am sure you have  noticed that I use the original word – Dis-Ease in most of my writings.   The word disease simply means a body not at ease (or not in a balanced state), hence –  dis-ease.

Liver dis-ease is usually segregated into either being “acute” (more common) or “chronic”. Clinical symptoms include the following:

  • lack of appetite
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination
  • lethargy
  • jaundice
  • * in sever cases:
  • seizures
  • head pressing
  • aimless wandering
  • staggering gait
  • blindness
  • aggression
  • dementia and coma

* These last seven severe symptoms are often referred to as hepatic encephalopathy.

Usually, veterinarians will diagnose liver disease based on blood and urine tests, abdominal X-rays, and abdominal ultrasound.


Think of the liver as an air filter that traps all the dust, dirt, and other germs that circulate through the air.

If you have ever used an air filter, you know what it looks like right before it needs to be changed cleaned/changed. It is completely saturated with dust and often a film of grime.  When the filter is not regularly cleaned or changed, it eventually become clogged. The role of the filter is to trap and contain dirt and microbes so that the air being breathed does not become a health hazard to those in the environment.

The liver works in a similar way, it is also the body’s filter and traps toxins that have entered the body through digestion, the skin, and/or the respiratory system. The liver is the hardest working organ in the body.

While a very complex organ with many functions, I will keep this information on how the liver filters and detoxifies your pet’s body and how it becomes diseased. Then I will go over briefly some ways to detox and support the liver.

The first way that the liver detoxifies the body is through filtering the blood. The blood is full of toxins that include viruses, bacteria, and other poisons. A healthy liver removes these toxins before they have a chance to affect the body negatively. When the liver is functioning at full capacity, it can filter about 99% of the toxins out of the blood before the blood is sent back through the body.

Next, the liver detoxifies the body by producing bile. This substance aids in digestion, breaking down fats and proteins in the foods eaten. Bile is created by the liver, but stored in the gallbladder Also; bile helps eliminate toxins in the body and flushes it out through the colon.

The last way that the liver detoxifies the body is a two-step process through which it detoxifies and breaks down toxins and waste in the body. The healthy liver neutralizes the toxins or decreases the potency of the toxin. It may also change the toxins into a more water soluble form so that these toxins can be released through the bile or urine.

This is indeed an impressive list of functions, all of which are important in maintaining your dog (or cat’s) health.

These signs or symptoms are due to the buildup of toxins in your pet’s brain, especially ammonia which is normally broken down into harmless components by the liver. On blood tests, your pet may have too few red blood cells (anemia) and your vet will probably detect elevated liver enzymes.

Please note that Traditional/conventional veterinary awareness of liver dis-ease is mainly focused on suppressing the symptoms, and thus the underlying causes of liver dis-ease – shunts and poor liver health in general are not truly being considered at all.

Of course, nutrition is rarely discussed as a remedy or aid to the liver except by the occasional veterinarian who recommends “prescription formulas” promoted by the dog food companies.

In the 30 years that I have been studying, researching and working with animals naturally, I have found that most cases involving chronic liver problems, stem from biological:

  • Assimilation – viral/bacterial

and environmental:

  • Diet
  • Pesticides
  • toxins
  • vaccinations
  • pollution causes.

Regardless of the trigger however,  the end result is always the same, an overburdened liver, poor liver health and possible growth of liver shunts.


Because of the liver’s role in digestion and filtration, what we feed our companion animals dramatically affects their health.

While the healthy, normal liver is performing its vital functions and we are feeding pets an improper diet, vaccinating them, giving synthetic, chemical based medications or supplements and exposing them to home and garden toxins, the liver becomes over-worked and a lot of damage takes place with resultant poor functioning.

When our companion’s liver is not functioning properly, toxins build up, clogging the liver and causing toxins to then be reabsorbed into the body and then digestion is affected which in turn causes there to be a shortage of essential nutrients or substances such as glucose, vitamins and minerals being utilized – hence liver disease ensues.

Since the liver is the organ that aids in processing protein, it has been erroneously taught in veterinary medicine that dogs with liver shunts and/or liver disease have impaired liver functions; therefore, they should be fed a reduced amount of protein.

However, you need to understand that the matter of feeding less protein came about by tests done while feeding cooked/processed protein, not raw!  So, of course, cooked protein is of poor quality with no nutritive value in the first place.   Cooking alters the structure of the protein and destroys most nutrition.  See the article  >  Cooked Vs. Raw Food For Dogs  for more information.

It is imperative that proteins provided by the diet be of high biological value to reduce the production of ammonia, a by-product of protein digestion.

The amount and type of protein fed to a dog with liver dis-ease needs to be raw, (pasture raised/ grass fed, organic meat if at all possible) to be of the highest biological value .

However, traditional/conventional veterinarians will usually recommend a feeding a soy or milk based diet such as a so-called scientifically formulated processed pet food considered to be “low protein”.   Here’s the problem:  cooked or processed pet food , whether meat based or dairy/soy based are very poor quality protein and again, the fact that it is processed, cooked and extruded at high temperatures makes it extremely difficult and even in some cases impossible for our carnivore companions to digest in the first place.  This is proof of their lack of education in true species specific nutrition.

It needs to be understood right here and now that our dogs (and cats) are CARNIVORES and not omnivores like we humans are.   Carnivores are designed to require a RAW protein based diet to thrive.  When our carnivore pets are not fed a species specific diet, their organs are overburdened with extra work they have not been designed to do.  Poor quality, cooked and or processed protein cannot be flushed through the colon effectively. Thus, the toxins are reabsorbed into the liver and other filtering organs in the body.

With the use of raw, species specific whole foods, species appropriate probiotics and enzymes you can decrease the toxic burden of an acidic diet and thereby take the stress off the liver (and kidneys) and allow the liver to rest from attempting to deal with the toxins from undigested, denatured foods. With fewer toxins for the liver to filter, there is less need for a constant high-level defense effort and everything in your pet’s body will begin to balance and work better.


Because the liver is such an important organ in your pet’s body, it is important that any “treatment” undertaken is done at an early stage of the dis-ease process. The liver has a remarkable capacity for regeneration but care must be taken to not do further damage to the liver during the treatment and healing process.

Please Note that conventional veterinary treatment only addresses the symptoms of the liver failure or dis-ease – at best they can only manage the circulating toxins in blood in an artificial and reductionist way; it does not change what happens at the level of the liver its self to cause the symptoms.


By adopting a naturopathic, truly holistic approach to the healing of your companion and acknowledging the importance of a raw species specific diet for optimizing healing, your dog’s liver will be given the best chance possible of repairing and regenerating itself. (especially if there is not too much damage already done)

Over the last few years, using natural and holistic therapies that address the whole dog (mind, body and spirit) have become more and more popular amongst pet owners, especially since conventional drug therapies do not heal and have numerous unpleasant side effects while only suppressing the symptoms. In contrast to natural therapies that are side effect free and have healing benefits.

Natural and alternative therapies to alleviate symptoms of liver disease include:

  • The use of sunlight and fresh air
  • The elimination of all chemicals in your home and garden
  • Regular, good/proper exercise
  • Feeding a RAW carnivore specific diet
  • Putting your dog through a detox
  • Supplementing with the use of medical grade essential oils, herbs or homeopathy
  • Massage and/or acupressure
  • Trust in natural healing ways

A combination of these therapies may be used to promote a healthy liver.

If you would like assistance and support while switching your dog to a raw diet or the use of natural remedies and supplements, please ask me about having a consultation

The information offered by Dr. Thomason is intended to provide general guidance. Nothing on the web site or during a regular consultation constitutes traditional allopathic veterinary advice. Always consult with a licensed veterinarian before undertaking any course of “treatment” for your animal or changing treatments or medications your own veterinarian has already prescribed. This consultation will hopefully suggest additional options to think about, and other areas to explore, based on your dog’s condition.

This article is the sole property of Dr. Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason and The Whole Dog. It cannot be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the expressed written consent of the author.

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