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When to euthanise a dog with liver disease

Owner holding its beagle dog advice

Dogs can be vaccinated against liver disease.

© Shutterstock

When to talk to a vet about euthanasia depends on the type of liver disease that your dog is suffering from. How you can help your pet is explained here.

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Updated on the 12/08/2020, 13:14

There are different types of liver disease and dogs are capable of recovering from them. But if it does become clear that treatment isn't going to work on your dog, it's important for you, the owner, to help relieve the suffering of your pet – for both of you, of course – and talking to a vet about euthanasia.

What is liver disease in dogs?

Dogs can suffer from a variety of liver diseases. These include infections, vascular disease (diseases of the blood vessels), toxins (including some medicines), cancers and fibrosis. Dog breeds prone to liver disease include Bedlington terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Dobermans, Labradors, Rottweilers, Yorkshire Terriers and Cocker Spaniels

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How long will my dog live with liver disease?

The life expectancy of a dog with liver failure depends on the underlying cause and whether or not it is treatable. For example, a dog with a liver cancer may live happily for many years, if the cancer is small and slow growing. But a dog with severe infection of the liver (for example, leptospirosis) may not recover and deteriorate over a few days. This is why it’s important to vaccinate your dog against this preventable disease.

How long can a dog live with high liver enzymes?

There are many different liver enzymes and some indicate problems with the liver itself, while others can be related to diseases of the gall bladder. Liver enzymes can also increase in disease affecting with other organs in the body. Very high liver enzymes can indicate a more severe problem with the liver, but even more important than one measurement is how the liver enzymes respond to treatment over time. If they reduce over a period of days with supportive treatment, they can return to normal even from very high starting levels.

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What are the symptoms of a dog dying from liver failure?

Liver failure in dogs can cause a variety of symptoms. The most common are inappetence (not wanting to eat), vomiting, jaundice (yellow skin and mucous membranes), excessive drinking and lethargy (tiredness). Liver failure commonly causes nausea, and can be painful if the liver has swelled in size. They may also show neurological signs, such as shaking and fitting. A combination of these symptoms may indicate that your dog has severe liver failure and is unlikely to recover.

Can a dog recover from liver failure?

The liver is the one organ that can regenerate. If the underlying cause of liver disease is treatable, then a failing liver can recover over time. Yet if the liver is affected severely or the underlying cause is not treatable, it may not be able to recover, even with treatment.

Are dogs in pain when they have liver failure?

It is difficult to know if liver disease is painful for dogs. It certainly causes nausea and, if the liver enlarges, it may cause discomfort.

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How do dogs act when they are about to die?

A dog dying from liver failure is likely to be very weak, lethargic and vomiting a lot. As they deteriorate, they may no longer have the strength or will to get up to go to the toilet and may soil themselves. Liver disease can also cause neurological signs, so they may seem vacant or even start fitting. All of these signs are distressing for both the dog and the owner, and veterinary help should be sought as soon as possible to relieve their suffering.

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