A guide to understanding liver health in pets

The liver is an important organ with many functions including the digestion and conversion of nutrients, the removal of toxins from the blood, and the storage of vitamins and minerals.

Maintaining a healthy liver in dogs and cats is vital for an animal’s general health and recovery. The liver plays an important role in the body and has a wide variety of functions, which include, filtering the blood from the digestive tract before passing it to the rest of the body. The liver detoxifies chemicals and metabolises whilst helping the liver when it’s processing medication.

Some of the main functions of the liver include:

  • Detoxifies blood
  • Balances cholesterol
  • Stores iron
  • Stores glycogen
  • Synthesis of the urea
  • Helps recovery
  • Stores vitamins A, D, B12 and K
  • Stores blood
  • Generates bile
  • Produces protein

Because the liver essentially works to rid the body of so many different substances, it can be susceptible to damage from many different causes. The signs of liver disease can be very similar to those of other conditions. Some common signs to look out for include:

  • Poor or loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and white of eye)
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Excessive drooling
  • Lack of energy or depression

Common causes of liver problems

Unlike other organs, the liver is very good at regenerating itself, but serious damage to the liver can cause rapid failure of its function – this is known as acute liver failure. Over 75% of the liver is usually damaged before liver failure occurs. Liver problems in pets can be caused by a number of factors, including:

Toxins and poisons

If your pets ingest any toxins or poisonous substances, the liver is often the first organ to be affected by this, as the liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the blood.

Long-term medications

Certain types of long-term drugs for other health conditions can cause damage to the liver, as it is unable to process them properly and they can build up within the tissue of the liver itself. This may include certain commonly used veterinary painkillers or steroids, designed for chronic health problems, and this is something that your vet should make you aware of at the time.

Inappropriate diet

Feeding your pet the correct diet for their age and life stage helps to ensure that they stay healthy for life and can thrive, and feeding a diet that is not complete or is not the right fit, can lead to a whole range of both immediate problems, and those that take longer to manifest. While liver disease may not be one of the most obvious or immediate problems that can be caused by feeding the wrong diet, it is certainly something worth taking into account.

Congenital defects

If a puppy is born with a congenital defect or hereditary health condition, it can then lead to the liver being poorly developed, unable to function properly or susceptible
to failure later on. Pre-breeding health screening and finding out about the health of the parent dogs can help to avoid this problem.


Certain dog breeds, such as Dobermans, Rottweilers, Yorkshire Terriers and Cocker Spaniels can be born with or are more likely to develop liver problems.

Tips to maintain a healthy liver

Not all liver problems can be prevented, but certain precautions can help to reduce the risk of specific diseases. Some of the positive things you can do to reduce the risk and keep your pet’s liver healthy include:

Make sure your pet has plenty of clean, fresh water as they may experience increased thirst.

If medications are being used, they could be causing toxins to build up in the liver. Your vet can advise if these should be looked at.

Feed your pet a good nutritious diet. Avoid fatty dry foods that are difficult to digest. Your vet may recommend a low-fat, low-protein diet to help maintain your pet’s liver health.

Key nutrients
Silybin is a bioavailable form of Milk Thistle Extract, which has proven bioactive properties. SAMe has been shown to help healthy liver function. Turmeric is a highly bioavailable antioxidant that helps to reduce free radicals.

Visit your vet
Take your pet to the vet for regular health checks and vaccinations to help maintain a healthy liver. Be sure to take on board and follow any advice given. They are best placed to monitor your pet’s health and ensure they receive the best possible care.

Remove toxins
Remove toxins from your pet’s environment. Look at taking a more holistic approach to their diet and healthcare and look into reducing conventional care that can lead to the build-up of toxins.

Be wary on walks
Keep an eye on your dog whilst on walks to avoid them eating poisonous plants or toadstools.

Be sure to keep up your pet’s exercise routine to help maintain your pet’s overall health, as well as support a healthy liver.


 If you are worried about your pet’s liver health or health in general, you should speak to your vet who will be able to offer the best advice dependant on your pet’s age and breed.