Liver failure in dogs

If you suspect that your dog has liver failure, it is important to get a proper diagnosis from your veterinarian. You can also keep an eye out for a number of symptoms. Learn more about it here.

What is liver failure in dogs?

In dogs, the liver plays a critical role in the digestion, processing and storage of nutrients. The liver also purifies the body. At some point in its life, your dog’s liver may stop functioning properly. This is called liver failure. The symptoms only become visible once a large portion of the liver is already damaged.

Types of liver failure:

  • Acute live failure: With proper treatment, the dog can make a full recovery.
  • Chronic liver failure: It is vital to prevent or slow further liver damage. Unfortunately, full recovery is not possible.


Causes of liver failure in dogs

Liver failure may be caused by an infection (leptospirosis) or by metabolic issues, or it may be congenital (present at birth). One common congenital liver disorder is an underdeveloped liver. This occurs due to a deviation of the blood vessels coming from the intestinal area (portosystemic shunt).

Does my dog have liver failure?

The symptoms of early-stage liver failure differ from those of late-stage liver failure.

Early-stage liver failure

  • reduced appetite
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • increased thirst (drinking) and urination


Late-stage liver failure

  • jaundice
  • fluid retention in the abdomen
  • neurological symptoms, possibly even coma
  • reduced blood clotting
  • blood in the stool


Jaundice is caused by the buildup of bilirubin in the blood. In dogs, the resulting yellow discoloration is most visible in the whites of their eyes, the insides of their ears and the mucous membranes of the mouth.


Liver failure has ambiguous symptoms and numerous possible causes. For this reason, blood tests provide a lot of useful information. A definitive diagnosis often also requires an ultrasound and a biopsy of the liver. Consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan if your dog exhibits one or more of the above symptoms.

Treatment of liver failure

Depending on the cause, your veterinarian will provide appropriate treatment consisting of medication, surgery, or both. A balanced dietary pet food can support liver function and help reduce the production of toxic waste products in the blood.