The liver clears the body of poisonous substances, converts excess glucose into glycogen for future, stores iron and processes hemoglobin for the use of this iron, produces bile which carries some waste away, helps to regulate blood clotting, produces certain blood plasma proteins, produces some immune factors to get rid of bacteria thereby resisting infection - and much more! Malfunction of the liver can translate to serious conditions that may be life threatening. A liver friendly diet that supports this organ is an excellent adjunct to veterinary care. We've provided a liver-friendly diet below.
The Possible Problems
Elevated liver enzymes, as might be seen through blood test results, are best evaluated by your veterinarian. Sometimes, a toxic load being dealt with by the liver can cause elevations in enzymes. Liver shunts, copper storage disease and a host of other problems can affect liver function. Supporting liver function through dietary modification, often shows positive results. The reading material noted here, should be helpful in providing information that you can put to good use right away. We've also included a liver friendly diet to get you started.
Liver Function and Helpful Supplements
The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and given its critical functions, it should win an award for multi tasking. The liver stores vitamins and minerals, excretes waste product into bile, metabolizes drugs and hormones, converts ammonia to urea, converts sugars to fats that are stored, and more! Obviously, with this many important functions, compromised liver function can be serious. Due to the position of the liver in the digestive tract, it is, unfortunately, vulnerable to many insults i.e. toxic, circulatory, microbial and metabolic. Sometimes, liver function is compromised because the liver itself is in trouble but often, the liver is harmed as a secondary reaction and responds by inflammation, death of liver cells, lowered function and sometimes, regeneration.
In years gone by, it was thought that the diet of a dog with liver disease should include reduced protein. Today, we know differently. The exception is if the dog has hepatic encephalopathy (HE) in which case diet takes on a very different role - especially in the case of protein. Read about it here.
While it’s important to reduce the workload on the liver, this organ requires protein for regeneration. They key is to use protein with high biological value (for example, eggs and cheese), while avoiding red meats because of their high content of heme and other non-protein nitrogenous compounds. Normal levels of vitamins K and C can be deficient in dogs with liver disease. Vitamin K can be found in leafy green vegetables, Vitamin C, playing a key role in collagen formation and the synthesis of certain hormones, can be supplemented. B vitamins may also be in short supply and again, these can be supplemented. Multi vitamin and mineral complexes should be used only under supervision of a veterinarian. Excess copper is a problem at any time but especially so when liver disease is present.
The Goal of Dietary Changes
Although the liver has many important functions, one of the most stressful is the elimination of protein byproducts. This might lead us to believe that feeding less protein would be helpful but, in fact, the liver requires protein for regeneration. The key is to offer proteins of high biological value that leave less "waste" for the liver to have to dispose of. In addition, certain supplements can be helpful.
Milk Thistle protects liver tissue and helps to regenerate damaged liver tissue. Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish body oils like Wild Salmon Oil, help cell function. Vitamin K, for proper blood coagulation, can be found in green foods.
The B-Complex vitamin group is required for healthy cells throughout the body. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that has a sparing effect on Vitamin C.
Acidophilus helps to improve immune system function, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. Ellagic acid and tannins (see Antioxidant Booster) have liver protective properties.
For Further Reading
Optimal Nutrition: This book includes discussion, explanations and diet samples for dogs with compromised liver function.
Compromised Hepatic Detoxification by Dr. N Scanlan - Vitamin E, selenium, gluathione and taurine all provide benefits for the liver.
The Hepatoprotective Action of Ellagotannins by Dr. ND Buniatian et al - A component of ellagotannins (Altan) helps to protect the liver.
Current Concepts in the Treatment of Canine Chronic Hepatitis by Dr. A Honeckman Liver disease is caused by several conditions. Selecting the right treatment depends on determining the right cause.