Liver Metabolism In Your Dog And Cat

Ron Hines DVM PhD

Other Articles About Liver Problems:


Possible New Liver Treatment Options

Your pet’s liver is the first stop for all the things that it eats. Its that organ’s job to sort through them, identify each one and rework (process) each one in unique ways before allowing those nutrients and compounds to enter your pet’s general blood stream. Once nutrients pass through the liver, they become the building blocks or energy for cells throughout the animal’s body.

The liver is also the first stop for ingested toxins and drugs that enter your pet’s body. It does its best to reject or neutralizes eaten compounds that pose a health threat. There are plenty of liver-toxic compounds that dogs and cats are exposed to. Particularly when their diets consist of processed pet foods (ref), inappropriate food items and exposure to our 2017 urban environment. (ref1,ref2)

When you see a TV ad where the pet owner eats a spoonful of their own dog or cat’s food, that brand is probably as safe for your pet as it is for you. But foods processed and sold specifically for pets have second class ingredients that can be quite hard on the liver.

A healthy liver has a remarkable ability to identify those toxic substances and choose the best way to detoxify them. The same goes for toxic waste products of the pet’s own normal metabolism. Some, like ammonia and certain bile acids, are known – but many remain unknown.  When those undesirable substances cause liver damage, healthy livers rapidly regenerate new hepatocytes to take the place of those that were injured by those agents. Only blood and skin (both also organs) share that remarkable ability of regeneration.

You found this webpage because your veterinarian told you that your pet’s liver is no long able to regenerate its lost liver cells (hepatocytes). In that situation, it can no longer clear toxic substances from the pet’s body as well as it once did. Or, your pet was born with an abnormally constructed liver that allows unprocessed blood to bypass the liver (portosystemic shunts , hepatic microdysplasia). Or those bypasses and short circuits developed due to extensive liver damage.

If your pet were a human being, your physician might tell you that he/she had medications to help and could suggest life style changes that would also help you for a time. That when the person’s problem could no longer be managed with medications, a liver transplant was an option. Veterinarians can’t offer that to your pet – yet. You can see some of those medication and diet options here , here and here. You can read the medications that help humans with failing livers here. I wish we had medication right now that could offer more.

But there are other things you might try. For one, the remaining healthy liver cells that your pet has, undergo less stress when food is offered in smaller amounts – but more frequently so its daily needs are met. Weigh your pet to be sure its daily food intake maintains a healthy body weight.

You might also try to vary the times of day when you offer food to your pet. A recent study in lab animals found that livers expand and shrink and change their capacity to perform their tasks depending on the time of day (up to 40%). In animals that feed mostly at night, their livers are the largest (and most capable) during the night. In humans, the reverse is the case. In dog’s and cats, we do not know. You can read that article here.

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