Liver function in dogs

Reggie has been having bile acid problems lately. This is not completely unexpected; he has had these problems on and off his whole life and because of the seizure medications his liver function is already compromised. This time, though, was a little worse.

His liver enzyme count was much higher than it was back in February, and his bile acid count was abnormal. He stopped eating- for about three weeks. He would eat treats (of course, right?) and handfuls of food every couple of days, probably just when he got really hungry and needed to eat something. He already takes Zantac twice a day to control the stomach acid, and now his vet has him on probiotics. After about a week, he returned to normal eating.

Being me, I googled the heck out of everything related to a dog’s liver, the liver processes, liver failure, what would cause the abnormal bile acid count, how to fix it…you get the idea. I learned some interesting things- first the liver.

The Liver Process

The liver is pretty amazing. It performs a zillion functions, but the main ones are: production of proteins, metabolism of carbohydrates, vitamin production, digestion, and detoxification. Reggie’s particular problem involved digestion. The liver excretes bile which ultimately goes into the small intestine to help breakdown food, particularly fats. The bile acid is secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. The gall bladder releases bile as needed during the digestion process and bile acids are absorbed into the small intestine and returned back to the liver. In Reggie’s case, the bile acids were not removed from the bloodstream and recycled back to the liver, resulting in an abnormal test result. This impacted his ability to properly digest food and, to put it simply, gave him an upset tummy.

The very serious side of this is that these are signs of liver inflammation, potential liver disease, or ultimately liver failure. Because the entire organ performs all of the same functions, up to 80% of it can be diseased or damaged before failure sets in. In dogs this is especially hard to tell because of their stoic nature.

The Liver and Food

In the beginning, I went down the rabbit hole and panicked and thought that Reggie’s food (duck and oatmeal) was duck being manufactured in China. I know better; due to his allergies I have researched the heck out of food and manufacturers and I feel pretty confident about the quality of what he eats. Nonetheless, I called to make sure (it’s not). However, I learned some interesting things.

High protein food and high fat food is taxing on the liver, particularly for compromised dogs. There is controversy regarding high protein diets. Most information states that anything over 25% protein isn’t appropriate for any animal. The type of protein comes into play too- a high protein food made up mostly of soy isn’t as good for a dog as meat. Dog food manufacturers that reference wolves forget that; 1) dogs aren’t wolves; and 2) the 40% protein “wolf” diet they promote has very little moisture which is not like a true wild wolf diet of raw meat. Raw diets get controversy as well, but most of the information I found indicates that once you factor in the bone, tissue, etc. the protein is about 25% which is where you want to be.

Fat is another potential pitfall. Diets with 10-15% fat are considered normal and over 20% are considered high fat. There is not really any controversy over fat- just your veterinarian’s recommendation for your dog for whether they should be on a normal or low-fat diet. Considering Reggie had a high bile acid count and bile aids in the digestion and breakdown of fat, I checked his food for fat content. Turns out his wet food has a whopping 30% fat! This will require some reworking- he needs the wet food with his dry food but it may have to be cut back as this could be contributing to his liver issues.

A Final Note

In my research I came across these interesting abstracts about high protein diets and aggression. The nutshell is that in the test groups of dogs with territorial aggression (in one study) and dominance aggression (in the other study), the high protein diets scored highest in behavioral scores, and reduced protein reduced aggression. Fascinating topic if you have a dog with these issues, and another tool for your toolbox.

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2 thoughts on “Liver function in dogs

  1. Thank you for the links to those abstracts, they are so interesting. I was glad to see your research found that a raw diet should hit the right percentage of protein for good liver health. Although Zeke does not have an aggressive nature, I always felt that after we switched him to a raw diet he was a lot calmer and he gets poultry (tryptophan source?) about 4x a week.
    I’m sorry to hear Reggie was having some health issues. Hope he is feeling better now!

    • I love it when we can see the links play true (the tryptophan)! Reggie is still on the mend, taking a little longer than hoped. Thanks for the get well wishes 🙂

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