The liver is a vital organ in a dog’s body. It aids in the removal of toxins, blood clotting, and digestion.
Hence most people get worried, and rightfully so when a veterinary doctor informs them that their dog has elevated liver enzymes. Which in most cases means the dog has underlying liver problems.
But what exactly are elevated liver enzymes, what are the causes, and what are the symptoms. More importantly, how do you treat elevated liver enzymes?
This article will answer all of the above questions in detail. Read on to learn more.
What are elevated liver enzymes?
Inside your dog’s liver are four enzymes that give valuable information about the organ’s health.
The four enzymes are divided into two categories.
- Hepatocellular enzymes- They become elevated when damage occurs to liver cells
- Cholestatic enzymes- become elevated when the bile duct has an issue.
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
Usually gets elevated when damage occurs on liver cells and other body parts like muscle cells.
However, the AST enzyme can become elevated by non-liver issues; hence it is rarely tested.
Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
Primarily found in the liver, ALT is more useful as it gives a clear indication of any liver infection.
ALT is released into the blood when damage occurs in the liver, and vets usually assess it using blood tests. The amounts of ALT recorded show the severity of the condition.
Alkaline Phosphate (ALP)
ALP is found in cells lining the bile duct. Consequently, bile duct blockage (cholestasis) leads to increased ALP production.
ALP isn’t a liver-specific enzyme. However, it is usually the most elevated enzyme, which doesn’t necessarily indicate liver problems.
Glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT)
GGT is also contained in cells lining the bile duct and can become elevated due to cholestasis.
Moreover, GGT is a sensitive indicator of any liver infections. Therefore, doctors mostly use it to ascertain whether the dog’s liver has any diseases or if the elevation means another organ is ailing.
What causes elevated liver enzymes
Your dog’s liver enzymes may become elevated for numerous reasons, all of which fall into two groups.
Let us have a closer look at each
It refers to issues inside the liver. Whereby the organ may become infected, leading to elevated enzymes. Some of the causes include
Tumors are highly detrimental since they interfere with the organ’s ability to carry out its normal functions.
Also, some tumors take long to develop or cause noticeable blood test changes. They are mostly identified when fully grown.
A common change that mostly occurs in the livers of elderly dogs. The condition isn’t harmful; hence it doesn’t require treatment.
A condition where a portal vein supplies blood from the intestines directly to the heart, bypassing(shunting) the liver.
As a result, the liver will experience reduced blood supply and consequently elevated liver enzymes.
Portosystemic shunts can be acquired or congenital and, if left untreated, may lead to death.
The liver may incur blunt trauma when a dog gets involved in a car accident or gets hit by a heavy object. The damage will also affect the organ’s cells resulting in elevated liver enzymes.
Refers to issues outside the liver that cause elevated liver enzymes
Gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or pancreatitis cause inflammation of the intestines and pancreas. Both organs are close to the liver.
An Endocrine disease like hypothyroidism can lead to elevated enzymes despite only affecting the thyroid gland.
Some drugs, such as phenytoin, prescribed for seizures, heartworm, and anti-inflammatory medications, can cause abnormal liver enzyme levels.
Hence your vet needs to look at all the drugs the dog has been taking.
What your dog eats directly correlates with the health of its liver. Firstly, some foods contain deadly mycotoxins known as aflatoxins.
Aflatoxins negatively impact the liver leading to jaundice and weight loss.
Secondly, many processed pet foods contain synthetic minerals, vitamins, pesticides, and toxins. Hence the body needs to work harder to remove them, thereby stressing the liver.
Thirdly, some manufactured canine feeds have poisonous byproducts such as acrylamides and heterocyclic amines due to the high processing heat.
These substances put extra pressure on a dog’s liver.
Symptoms of elevated liver enzymes
Not all dogs with elevated liver enzymes show symptoms, but those that do may experience
- Increased thirst
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in urine or poop
- Yellowish tongue, gums, or eyes
- Unstable walk
- Fluid build up in the body (Ascites)
How to treat elevated liver enzymes
Once you have identified the cause of the elevated enzymes, that will determine how it’s treated.
If it’s a hepatic disease (an infection inside the liver), treatment will depend on the gravity of the infection.
In some cases, where the dog has mild elevation and doesn’t have any symptoms, the vet may delay treatment for a few weeks. Monitor the patient and carry out repeated blood tests.
When the condition is severe, the patient will need hospitalization, where he will undergo aggressive fluid therapy plus other medications and antibiotics.
Your dog may undergo surgery for rare cases like cancer, tumors, or gall bladder stones.
If the elevation resulted from a particular medication the dog was undertaking, then your doctor could suggest a change or reduce the dosage.
Use of supplements
Supplements like milk thistle and glutathione aid your dog’s liver in detoxification while supporting cell regeneration.
Kindly check with your vet on the specific amount you need to be offering and how many times per day.
Note that milk thistle shouldn’t be used on lactating or pregnant dogs. Also, experts recommend giving the supplement only when the liver is stressed and not daily.
Changes in diet
Your doctor may recommend a special diet to ensure your dog gets all the required nutrients to facilitate the healing of the liver.
How to prevent elevated liver enzymes
- Avoid feeding your pet processed or fatty foods. Instead, go for a fresh, raw meat-based diet without added chemicals. Your dog should also regularly eat greens like spinach, broccoli sprouts, and dandelion greens.
- Once a vet recommends a drug for your dog, strictly follow the instructions to avoid cases of overdosing.
- Frequently exercise your dog to maintain a healthy weight to prevent diseases like diabetes affecting its liver.
- Don’t give your furry friend over-the-counter medications without first consulting your veterinarian.
- Offer your dog probiotics like our Safe Guard, which help increase its immunity and ability to absorb minerals and vitamins.
- Ensure your dog only drinks clean water. Dirty or stagnant water can contain blue-green algae or mold, both harmful to the liver.
- Keep potentially harmful substances like pesticides, human medications, and rodenticides away from your pup’s reach.
- Schedule regular visits to your veterinary doctor so that he can check for any signs of liver disease. Identifying the disease early on increases the chances of successful treatment.
No dog owner would like to hear that their dog has elevated liver enzymes. However, when you do, follow your vet’s instructions, and your dog will be okay.
All in all, the buck stops with you by implementing preventive measures like exercising your dog regularly.
Feed your pup healthy foods and take the dog for regular checks. The chances of your loyal friend developing elevated liver enzymes reduce drastically.
We hope you found this article helpful. In case you have any questions, feel free to contact us.