When to Euthanize a Dog With Liver Failure?

Putting down your dog is never an easy decision to make. As their human companion, you understandably might go through feelings of loss, guilt, and grief. 

The liver is a vital organ in your dog’s body, responsible for several critical functions. In the case of liver diseases, your pet’s life quality can degrade significantly. 

End-stage liver failure symptoms may include constant seizures, inability to eat, sleep or interact with the family. As challenging as it may sound, the decision of when to euthanize a dog with liver failure should be taken objectively. 

The article will take you through different aspects of liver failure in dogs and how you can best help your pet.  

Making A Decision To Euthanize Your Pet With Liver Failure

Making A Decision To Euthanize Your Pet With Liver Failure

As the liver disease progresses into the end stage, your dog’s quality of life will be severely affected. 

Consider factors like the type of liver disease, treatment options, and chances of recovery. Talk to your vet to get their professional opinion. You can provide your dog with excellent care, but chances of recovery in the end stages are less than 20%.

Monitor your dog’s daily activities. Are they able to eat or move around? Are they in too much pain? Are they responding to your calls or actions? 

The challenge with liver failure is that your dog’s symptoms might worsen on some days. But on other days, you might find them enjoying their food and playing outdoors. Thus, you must assess their quality of life objectively. 

Seeing a version of your dog’s old self can make you feel guilty for considering euthanization. Instead, seek help from family and friends. If, on most days, your dog cannot eat, sleep, or is frequently vomiting or soiling themselves, is in constant pain, then you need to consider putting them down. 

When to put down a dog suffering from liver failure- there is no straightforward answer to the question. It is a personal decision, and no one knows your pet better than you. 

As tough as it is, your aim should be to make your dog as comfortable as possible. But if there is nothing more you can do, holding on to your dog while they are suffering in pain is not a fair decision. You need to let them go. You need to bid them goodbye. 

Why is a Dog’s Liver so Important?

Why is a Dog's Liver so Important

Did you know a liver is responsible for about 1500 biomechanical functions in the body? That is not the only mind-blowing fact about livers. The complex organ has a large functional reserve and can also regenerate. 

Some of the critical functions a liver performs are:

  • Metabolizes nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
  • Produces essential substances like protein albumin that helps with blood clotting.
  • It breaks down medications.
  • Stores vitamins and minerals.
  • Produces bile acids necessary for effective digestion.
  • Regulates amino acid levels in the blood
  • Eliminates toxins from the body.
  • Supports the immune system.

As the liver performs various body functions, the symptoms also present themselves differently. Therefore, it may not always be easy to attribute a sign to liver disease. 

When a dog’s liver starts failing, it might lose its appetite, seem disoriented, develop personality changes, and experience seizures, among other effects.

What are the Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs?

As the liver is a vital organ performing various functions, symptoms could depend on the function it is affecting. 

What are the Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs
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Some of the common gastrointestinal symptoms you will notice are:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Changes in poop color (orange, yellow, bloody, or blackish)

You could see neurological symptoms like:

  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Disorientation
  • Personality changes
  • Depression

Jaundice is a common symptom you will see in your dog in case of liver disease. Their eyes, ears, gums, and skin often turn a shade of yellow.

What are the Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs?

One can categorize liver failure into chronic and acute. In chronic cases, the condition of the liver worsens over time. It could result from other health conditions your dog is dealing with, such as diabetes, copper storage disease, or cancer.

1. Diabetes

If your dog suffers from diabetes, they are prone to liver diseases like diabetic hepatopathy. This disease can cause lesions to develop on the dog’s liver and skin. If the dog does not respond to diet changes and medication, its symptoms will continue to progress. Euthanasia could be the only option you are left with.

2. Copper Storage Disease

Copper storage hepatopathy causes an abnormal collection of copper in your dog’s liver. The condition can lead to liver cirrhosis. The cause could be genetic or a result of another underlying condition. Breeds such as Bedlington, Skye, and West Highland terriers are susceptible to this condition.

3. Liver Cancer

Cancerous tumors could originate from the liver. However, they could also spread to the liver from other body parts. The latter scenario is more common. Treatment options could include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of all.   

In acute cases, the liver can suddenly lose most of its ability to perform bodily functions. Causes could range from infections, drugs, or toxins.

Liver Cancer
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4. Infections

Detoxifying blood is one of the primary functions of the liver. The function also makes the liver prone to different infections. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites can damage the liver. Keep an eye on your dog when outdoors, do not let them drink water from contaminated sources. Ask your vet about vaccines that could help prevent these infections.

5. Drugs

Drugs are one of the common and tricky causes of liver failure in dogs. This is because the drug might work well in most dogs but might lead to adverse reactions in other dogs. The drugs are processed as a toxin by your dog’s liver. Some drugs that can cause such reactions are anabolic steroids, antifungals, and anticonvulsants, among others.  

6. Toxins

Toxins can enter your dog’s body from different sources. It could be a moldy piece of bread, fungi growing on trees, or even sweeteners found in human foods. If your dog ingests these toxins, seizures and tremors are the most common symptoms exhibited. 

What Treatment Options are Available for Liver Disease?

The symptoms mentioned above are not solely related to liver disease. Your vet might have to run diagnostic tests to check if your dog’s liver is functioning as expected. If they find issues, further tests will determine the cause of liver disease. 

Comparatively, acute cases have a better prognosis. In chronic cases, the treatment revolves around managing progression and symptoms. The vet can prescribe medications like anti-pain and anti-nausea for the same.

One of the standard treatment plans involves giving your dog a high-carbohydrate/low protein diet. This can help reduce the level of ammonia in the blood. In addition, switching over to dog food may be recommended for a cleaner diet.  

How to Take Care of Dogs with Liver Disease? 

It would be best if you kept up with the treatment plan and regular visits to the vet. Monitor your dog’s behavior and note any new symptoms, physical or neurological. The vet might add or change medications as per current symptoms. This could be a long-term management plan.

Your pet’s diet will have to be adjusted according to the seriousness of the liver disease. A low protein diet is recommended as it helps with the healing process of the liver. As higher levels of protein could end up affecting mental function. 

How to Take Care of Dogs with Liver Disease
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The right nutrition can help:

  • Maintain normal metabolic function. 
  • Provide high-quality digestible food.
  • Reduce further damage to the liver.
  • Aid in healing and regeneration.
  • Main minerals level in the body.

Thus, when taking care of dogs with liver disease, go with a vet-approved diet.

How Long Do Dogs with Liver Failure Live?

The life expectancy of dogs with liver failure depends on the cause, disease progression, and responsiveness to the treatment.

If the dog suffers from end-stage liver failure, it might sadly have a few days or weeks to live. In such cases, one will have to objectively evaluate the dog’s quality of life. This evaluation is necessary to arrive at the answer to when to put down a dog with liver failure.

If liver disease is diagnosed early, the dog could have a decent quality of life for a year or so, with medication and a customized diet. 

Can You Prevent Liver Diseases in Dogs?

Liver diseases are not entirely preventable. But there are specific measures you can take to protect your dog’s liver from damage.

For example, infectious diseases such as canine hepatitis and leptospirosis that can damage the liver are vaccine-preventable. 

Be careful of what you are feeding your pet. Please make a note of their allergies. When buying dog food, go through the ingredient list to know what your pet is ingesting. You should avoid giving fatty foods like chocolate, candy, or fat trimmings.

Can You Prevent Liver Diseases in Dogs
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Do not let your dog roam around unsafe and unclean areas outdoors. They could unknowingly pick up infections or toxins.

Always keep up with yearly physical check-ups. If you notice any symptoms that could point to liver disease, consult a vet immediately.


Quality of living, wellbeing, and comfort should be chief considerations while deciding when to euthanize a dog with liver failure

The liver is responsible for aiding digestion, metabolizing essential nutrients, and removing toxins from the body. In case of liver failure, your dog’s physical and mental health is at risk. However, treatment options are available to manage symptoms and make the pet feel comfortable.

If you notice an increased frequency of symptoms as the disease progresses, it might be time to put the dog down to spare them more pain and suffering. Lean on family and friends, talk to the vet, do not hesitate to seek help.

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