Hepatic (Liver) Failure in Dogs

Overview of Canine Hepatic (Liver) Failure

Hepatic (liver) failure is the loss of greater than 75 percent of the function of the liver, occurring secondary to severe, massive liver necrosis (death). This is a syndrome seen more commonly in dogs than in cats, and there are no age, breed, or sex predilections.

General Causes of Hepatic Failure in Dogs


Biologic Toxins

Infectious Agents


What to Watch For

Diagnostic Tests for Hepatic Failure

Your veterinarian will recommend the following diagnostics:

Treatment for Hepatic Failure in Dogs

Specific treatment is needed for any underlying or associated disorders. Hospitalization and support generally includes fluid and electrolyte therapy as well as dextrose (sugar) as needed for dehydration, metabolic imbalances and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Some more specific treatments include:

Home Care and Prevention of Hepatic Failure in Dogs

Administer all medication and recommended diet as directed by your veterinarian. Your pet will need to have follow up examinations and biochemical evaluations to monitor progress.

The prognosis of the liver failure depends on the quantity of liver mass destroyed and the ability to control underlying disorder and complicating factors.

Preventing liver failure can be difficult, if not impossible. To reduce the risk, vaccinate dogs against infectious canine hepatitis and leptospirosis and try to avoid drugs and toxins associated with liver toxicity.

Information In-depth on Liver Failure in Dogs

Hepatic failure is a condition that occurs when the liver is affected by poor blood flow, decreased oxygen delivery, hepatotoxic drugs or chemicals, heat excess or infectious agents. Hepatic failure is seen in all ages and breeds and affects both dogs and cats. This condition may affect several organ systems, including the liver and gall bladder (hepatobiliary tract), nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and hematologic (blood) system. Affected individuals may show any number of signs, including anorexia, lethargy, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, ascities (fluid in the abdominal cavity), bleeding and jaundice (yellow color to the skin).

There are several diseases/disorders that have similar symptoms and/or cause hepatic failure. These include:


Disorders associated with fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity can also be mistaken for liver failure. Some of these disorders are associated with protein loss and others are caused by abnormal functioning organs.


A variety of disorders are associated with jaundice, including liver failure.

Other Causes of Illness

Diagnosis In-depth of Hepatic Failure in Dogs

Certain diagnostic tests must be performed to diagnose liver failure and, as importantly, exclude other disease processes that may cause similar symptoms. Obtaining a complete history, description of clinical signs, and thorough physical examination are all an important part of obtaining a diagnosis. Ultimately, a liver biopsy is necessary to obtain a definitive diagnosis. Your veterinarian may recommend the following tests to rule out other disorders and to confirm a diagnosis of liver failure.

Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to exclude or diagnose other conditions or to diagnose liver failure more definitively. These tests are not necessary in every case, but they may be of benefit in certain individuals and are selected on a case by case basis. These include;

Therapy In-depth for Hepatic Failure in Dogs

There are several goals in the treatment of liver failure. They include eliminating any underlying cause, providing an environment for hepatic recovery and controlling complications. Patients with liver failure often require hospitalization and aggressive therapy. Although the prognosis for survival is generally guarded initially, these animals have the potential for complete recovery if they survive the first few days. It is extremely important to have a diagnosis confirming liver failure, as treatment protocols rely on the definitive diagnosis.

Control Complications

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Hepatic Failure

Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not rapidly improve.