COLUMN: At some point in your pet’s life, you may receive a call from your veterinarian advising you that your pet’s liver function is less than perfect. It is not uncommon for one or more liver values to be out of the normal range on a routine blood panel. This is more likely to occur in older pets but can occur even in young puppies and kittens.
The pet may or may not display symptoms so this is why it is important to get these routine laboratory tests done on a regular basis. This article will provide an overview of the importance of a healthy liver function and offer some treatment options to increase your pet’s longevity and vitality.
The liver is the main filtering system for the body since all blood supply travels through it to be detoxified. The liver performs many critical functions including:
* metabolism of fats, protein and carbohydrates
* filtering harmful substances from the blood (e.g. toxins and/or medications)
* storage of vitamins and minerals
* production of bile which aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients
* glycogen storage (involved in blood sugar regulation)
* synthesis of important proteins such as albumin and clotting factors
* red blood cell maintenance, in conjunction with the spleen
A pet may have NO outward symptoms that the liver is overburdened. It may only be discovered in a laboratory test and/or a physical exam by your veterinarian. During the physical examination, your veterinarian will look for signs of liver disease such as a distended abdomen due to enlargement of the liver, bruising under the skin, fever (due to secondary infection or inflammation), pain when pressure is applied to the abdomen or yellowish discoloration of the ears, gums and hairless areas of the skin. Anemia might be observed by checking the mucous membranes for a normal pink color.
The veterinarian will also look for symptoms such as:
1) Loss of energy
2) Digestive problems, diarrhea and/or constipation
3) Light tan or gray stools
4) Darker urine color (can be orange)
5) Changes in behavior such as pacing, circling or even seizures
6) Excess water drinking and urination
Since pets may have no symptoms however, diagnostic laboratory tests will provide the most valuable source of information. For example, a young pet may have a congenital condition such as microvascular dysplasia or a liver shunt and the symptoms may not be apparent until the pet is one or years old. A blood test may be the only way to know. There are certain blood values, for example, that if abnormal, may signify liver disease. These can include:
* Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) – An enzyme that becomes elevated with liver disease.
* Alkaline Phosphatase (ALKP) – An enzyme produced by the biliary tract (liver) can be elevated in liver and non-liver related diseases. High levels can indicate bone disease, liver disease or bile flow blockage.
* Gamma Glutamyltransferase (GGT) An enzyme produced in many tissues as well as the liver. Like alkaline phosphatase, it may be elevated in the serum of patients with bile duct diseases. Elevations in GGT, especially along with elevations in alkaline phosphatase, can indicate impaired bile flow
* Total Billirubin (TBIL) – A component of bile, bilirubin is secreted by the liver into the intestinal tract. Bilirubin is a byproduct of the breakdown of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is found within red blood cells and carries oxygen to the tissues. When red blood cells die, hemoglobin is broken down by the liver as bilirubin. Elevated bilirubin levels can be caused by excessive numbers of red blood cells breaking down or when the liver is diseased and unable to clear the bilirubin from the blood. Also if there is an obstruction in the bile duct, the flow of bilirubin into the intestine is impaired and this can also cause elevation of bilribuin in the blood.
* Albumin (ALB) – Produced by the liver, albumin is a plasma protein that helps control osmotic pressure in the tissues. When albumin is low, fluids can leak resulting in a swollen abdomen. Low levels of albumin can indicate chronic liver or kidney disease, or parasitic infections such as hookworm. High levels indicate dehydration and loss of protein.
A urine analysis and XRAYS can provide valuable information as well. If signs and symptoms appear that a pet’s liver is not functioning optimally, additional tests are warranted to determine the underlying cause. A bile acid test, ultrasound and/or liver biopsy may be needed to determine the reasons behind your pet’s poor liver function. Your veterinarian will recommend medications, diet changes and potential surgical procedures upon determining the cause of your pet’s liver disease.
Holistic Treatment Alternatives For Liver Disease in Pets
In many ways, your pet’s liver is analogous to the oil filter in a car. You need to keep it clean or the “blood” (e.g., oil in the car) gets dirty. When the liver’s job becomes overextended, the body cannot filter out as much as it should and toxins are released into the bloodstream. These toxins can cause harm to other tissues which in holistic medicine, is thought to be the root of disease. Since the liver is an integral component of so many critical bodily functions, it is easy to see a domino effect that can occur when the liver becomes overloaded. For instance, when a person drinks too much alcohol, the liver can’t keep up with the necessary “cleaning action” to process out the toxins, and people often develop other health conditions, such as increased levels of fat in the blood (triglycerides). Similarly, if the liver becomes overloaded following years of poor diet, medications and exposure to toxins, your pet’s liver can become overburdened as well.
It is a good idea to help your pet’s liver function optimally using holistic pet care BEFORE liver disease sets in. For example, if your pet is taking pain medications such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx, these medications can negatively impact your pet’s liver. However, if you use high quality liver detoxification supplements, you can minimize the potential impact of these medications. The liver is one of the few organs in the body that can regenerate new healthy tissue so it is not uncommon to see patients with compromised liver functions show significant improvements with our holistic protocols.
Certain foods can help to naturally detoxify the liver. Green vegetables contain not only valuable vitamins and minerals but they also contain natural cleansers and antioxidants that help to purify the blood and the liver. Giving your pet green vegetables such as green beans, squash or asparagus, along with some carrots can provide fresh enzymes and extra nutrition. Omega 3 fatty acids can be very helpful too. In general, pets with liver conditions need a diet low in animal fat, high in Omega 3s, reduced protein and high in fiber. Prepared prescription diets are available but a homemade, balanced diet specifically for liver conditions is best. The homemade diet would need to take into account your pet’s overall health status and blood test results or it could result in additional problems. For example, cooked fish is often helpful for pets with liver disease but not if the kidney values are elevated as well. Telephone consultations are available through AskAriel and other pet nutrition services if you would like to develop a custom homemade diet for your pet. A homemade diet should be balanced and supervised by a veterinary professional.
It is never too late to give your pet increased vitality and energy by adding high quality liver support supplements and reducing overall protein and fat in the diet by making the appropriate dietary changes. For example, reducing animal fats (e.g. never give pets poultry skin or fat off meat for example), increasing Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and flax seed oil and extra vegetables can all help to support your pet’s liver and longevity. Many pet owners notice their pets have extra energy after just a few days.
[tags]Susan Blake Davis, holistic pet care, petcare column, animal health articles, liver disease in dogs[/tags]