Top 7 Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs

Jack Russell terrier laying on side on grey couch.
Liver failure can affect any breed of dog.

Getty Images/Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman

The liver is an internal organ that is very important to the health of a dog. This organ is located in the abdomen next to the diaphragm and stomach with most of it being on the right side of your dog. It is dark red in color and has multiple lobes.

The liver plays a vital role in detoxifying the body, producing red blood cells, clotting blood, digesting food, and other functions necessary for life. It is also able to regenerate and repair itself but can still become diseased. If problems with your dogs liver are not promptly addressed, it can lead to non-reversible and fatal liver failure.

To prevent your dog from reaching this life-threatening stage, it can be helpful to know what symptoms to look out for. There are numerous signs that a dog is in liver failure, but some are more common than others.

Knowing what to watch for and seeking prompt veterinary attention can help keep your dog healthy and comfortable for as long as possible.

  • 01 of 07

    Jaundice

    Dachshund lying on grey couch looking at camera.
    Jaundice can be hard to see in dogs with dark fur.

    Getty Images/katerinasergeevna

    A sometimes obvious symptom, especially in light-coloured dogs, jaundice is also known as icterus. It occurs when the flesh goes from white or pink to yellow.

    Jaundice physically changes the appearance of skin and mucous membranes and a dog will appear to have a yellow hue. It is most noticeable inside the ears, on the belly where there is less fur, in the whites of the eyes, and the gums. Left untreated, these developing yellow shades will become more obvious as time goes on.

    Jaundice is a result of a build-up of bilirubin in the blood and that can be caused when the liver is not functioning optimally. Bilirubin is a normal compound in the body but, if the liver cannot metabolize it, then too much of it will circulate in the blood and cause the change in color on your dog's skin.

  • 02 of 07

    Vomiting

    Dalmatian puppy lying down.
    Intussusception can cause a dog to not feel well.

     Getty Images/Patricia Doyle

    The liver plays an important role in digesting food. If it is failing, vomiting is commonly seen. Vomiting may produce food, yellow bile, or water, depending on how recently your dog ate or drank, but blood may also be seen if a stomach ulcer is present. If left untreated, vomiting can cause dehydration.

  • 03 of 07

    Lethargy

    Dog lying on stainless steel exam table.
    Dogs with anemia can be very weak.

    Getty Images/THEPALMER

    If a dog is not feeling well for any reason it may become lethargic. Liver failure can be a cause of this lethargy due to pain, discomfort or a lack of proper nutrition. Ascites (a build-up of fluids) in the abdomen can make it more difficult for your dog to move around and, consequently, they will be expending more energy.

  • 04 of 07

    Anorexia

    Maltese refusing to eat bowl of dry dog food.
    Sometimes dogs don't want to eat simply because they are picky.

     humonia/Getty Images

    Anorexia occurs in a dog when it refuses to eat. A lack of appetite is not likely if a dog with liver failure is uncomfortable, in pain, or vomiting. This can result in rapid weightloss.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Swollen Abdomen

    Dog laying on a rug.
    Ascites can occur in any breed of dog.

     Getty Images/Michael Borst / EyeEm

    Ascites is a medical term used to describe fluid build-up in the abdomen. The swollen stomach that this causes in dogs can give the appearance of an inflated balloon. Ascites can be uncomfortable since it makes it harder for your dog to breathe and move around.

    Although a distended stomach can be related to other problems, it is commonly associated with high blood pressure, low blood protein levels, or electrolyte imbalances that can be a result of liver failure.

  • 06 of 07

    Seizures

    White dog looking beyond camera with blue background.
    Purebred, male dogs are more likely to have epilepsy than other dogs.

    Getty Images/amandafoundation.org

    Seizures can occur from liver failure when the liver is unable to remove toxins from the bloodstream. These toxins build up in the blood and cause brain damage. This can then cause seizures and other neurological issues.

  • 07 of 07

    Blood Clotting Issues

    Clumped platelets among red blood cells under a microscope.
    Platelets are smaller than red blood cells and play an important role in clotting.

     Getty Images/Ed Reschke

    The liver creates many proteins that help blood clot. It also digests some important vitamins that are also needed for clotting.

    If the liver is not functioning well, blood will have issues clotting. This can cause excessive bleeding from small cuts. Bruising below the skin may also be observed. Blood in the stool and vomit and bleeding from the gums are also common with dogs that are having clotting problems.

Many of these symptoms can be seen in dogs with other types of conditions and diseases, so while this list of symptoms may describe many dogs with liver failure or liver disease, it could also describe a dog with another type of problem. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose whether or not your dog is in liver failure.

While there is no cure for liver failure, depending on its severity, special diets, supplements, and medications may help extend and improve your dog's quality of life.