This post is Sponsored by VetChef and was written by their staff vets
Dogs with liver disease have very specific nutritional requirements – which makes sense, as the liver is so important in processing food and nutrients. In fact, it’s so difficult that, for many years, getting the balance right has been assumed to need a commercially manufactured food. However, is that really true? The vets and nutritionists from VetChef have some new and exciting ideas about other ways forward!
Table of contents
The liver: a really complicated multitasker!
The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It is situated in the abdomen just behind the diaphragm and has many important functions including:
- Metabolising and storing fat
- Carbohydrate metabolism (converting glucose into other materials, and manufacturing it when needed)
- Producing blood clotting factors
- Eliminating ammonia from the bloodstream (turning it into urea for excretion)
- Storing trace elements and vitamins (especially the fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K)
- Bile production
- Detoxification of the blood
Liver disease occurs in 3 ways
- The cell can become inflamed or infected causing hepatitis.
- Bile obstructions caused by tumours or inflammation
- Blood vessels known as liver shunts
Signs of liver disease only appear once 70-80% of its function is lost. Clinical signs can be very variable depending on where in the disease is present.
Diagnosis of liver disease by your vet
If liver disease is suspected a blood test is usually the initial step in diagnosing the disease. ALT, ALKP and enzymes are measured to determine the number of liver cells damaged. Blood tests can also tell us about the function of the liver by looking at bile acids, protein, bilirubin or ammonia. Clotting factor levels and the presence of some infectious diseases can also be tested in the blood.
In some cases, ultrasound scans or x-rays of the liver may be performed for further information on the type of disease.
Treatment of the disease will be targeted to support the symptoms
However, diet can play an important part in supporting the liver through disease. As the liver is the first stop for nutrients from the digestive system via the blood vessels so dietary consideration is important. The nutrient profiles for a dog with liver disease will change depending on the individual’s health condition. These are the most important factors for liver disease.
- Protein quantity needs to be measured to supply enough (for liver cell regeneration) but to avoid excess amounts (which can overload the ailing liver). The protein should be of high quality.
- Fat should be easily digestible, medium chain fats may be easier for the liver to metabolise.
- Fibre can be beneficial, as it can reduce ammonia that the liver needs to digest.
- Minerals and Vitamins can be supplemented under veterinary supervision. We should be particularly mindful of copper and zinc as well as B vitamins, as getting these balances right is really important in liver disease (excess is often as bad as insufficiency!).
- Carbohydrates can be useful to reduce protein and fat if needed.
- Antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage to the liver
Taking all these factors into consideration, home cooking for your dog with liver disease can be really supportive. VetChef has recipes and supplements that acknowledge all the nutrients we have discussed, using fresh ingredients to gain the perfect balance.