dog liver diseaseFrom the March 2013 issue

Harmony in liver,

Harmony in life

The liver is central to some of your dog’s most vital functions. It helps in the ability to clot blood, break down harmful toxins, aid in daily digestive functions and remove waste products from the blood. It also helps facilitate the immune system and produce antioxidants, and stores vitamins and fat. With all of these important tasks, it’s easy to understand why the liver can be responsible for certain imbalances and maladies in your dog’s body.

In Chinese medicine Qi is the energy, or life force, that travels throughout the body along meridians, or pathways in the body. The liver has its own associated liver meridian that travels along the inside of the hind limb and then to the organ and is involved with related functions in the body. Therefore, a problem with the liver not only affects the organ, but its meridian and the other functions the liver meridian influences in the body, such as the gastrointestinal system.

Liver problems manifest

Because the liver affects so many different functions in the body, holistic veterinarians recognize a connection between a variety of different symptoms and this important organ. For example, the elevated amount of toxins in our current environment can have drastic effects on a dog’s liver, as can pesticides, over vaccination and emotional distress due to lack of exercise, attention and basic care. A dog’s emotional stress can begin to manifest itself in physical symptoms.

Holistic veterinarians are aware of this ability for environmental and emotional factors to manifest themselves in the pet’s body and create physical maladies. When owners bring their dog for evaluation, I like to get their own account of the dog’s recent behavior and physical ailments. Anything they recently noticed can help in the diagnosis.

A change in your dog’s behavior is one symptom that can emanate from liver disharmony. Dogs with a liver imbalance tend to display irritability, restlessness, and aggression. They may become territorial of their possessions or even display fear aggression.

Liver disharmony can also present as a variety of different physical symptoms including anal sac issues, allergies, eye discharge, seizures and gastrointestinal problems.

The liver controls the pelvic and anal regions and can thus produce complications including chronic anal sac issues and bowel problems. It can also create gastrointestinal problems such as consistent vomiting, gurgly guts and vomiting bile.

Allergies can also be related to liver malfunction. Symptoms would include itching, especially in the paws, abdomen and face. Their skin may also be red and hot to the touch. Their coat may have a greasy or phlegmy smell. Typically, these allergies are a reaction to the aforementioned dangerous toxins, pesticides, or allergens in our modern environment. When a dog has an allergic reaction, it not only disrupts the flow of qi through the liver and the rest of the body, but it makes the dog more susceptible to future allergic outbreaks.

If the root problem of an allergy is not treated, the problem will continue to escalate. Conventional veterinarians would prescribe steroids to treat the allergy but may have difficulty finding the underlying problem. Additionally, commonly prescribed steroids can have a harmful effect on the liver. Holistic veterinarians recommend treating the underlying problem of the allergy, performing acupuncture and administering herbs to rebalance the liver.

Another serious physical manifestation of liver disharmony is seizures. Seizures can very often stem from a disharmony in the liver but are frequently labeled as epilepsy and treated as such by conventional medicine. However, acupuncture and herbs, especially liver harmonizing herbs, can assist in the management of seizures.

Dogs with an imbalance in the liver may also exhibit eyes that are inflamed and have excessive discharge.

Holistic treatment

In addition to hearing an owner’s account of the dog’s recent behavior and physical maladies, an examination of the dog’s physical state and behavior are evaluated. A dog with disharmony in the liver will exhibit any of the above mentioned symptoms as well as excessive panting and thickened saliva. He may also display a purple or reddened tongue and have a quickened, “taut” pulse.

One of the treatments I recommend for dogs with liver disharmony is acupuncture administered by a holistic veterinarian to balance the liver, as well as acupressure, which can be performed by the owner at home. Acupressure is the application of physical pressure by the hand or elbow to acupuncture points.

Dogs have five commonly used acupressure points on each side of the body pertaining to the liver. There are two points on the back and three on the inner hind leg, totaling in ten acupressure points. If performed correctly, acupressure will relax a dog and put him to sleep! And don’t worry if you hit the wrong spot. Your dog will still enjoy a nice massage.

Another recommendation is healthy, moderate exercise and an easily digestible diet including foods such as fish, rabbit, chicken, beets, spinach, squash and broccoli. Make sure the diet is low in fat and protein, and try to feed several times a day instead of one big meal. It’s also important to ensure your dog is getting the correct amount of vitamins, particularly B vitamins.

Because toxins and pesticides in the environment can negatively affect the dog’s liver, it’s also important to minimize pharmaceutical use and the presence of toxins in your home and lawn. For example, when you pick out cleaning supplies and lawn care products, try to choose environmentally friendly ones.

Limiting the amount of vaccines for a dog with liver complications is also important. Do only those that are necessary, and if the dog has to undergo anesthesia for any procedure, try to make sure everything is done under the one anesthesia treatment to limit the number of times it must be administered.

Herbs for liver health

There are several herbal solutions that can be very supportive for the liver and related functions.

Milk thistle aids to prevent the entry of those nasty toxins into the liver and is considered hepatoprotective, which means it prevents damage to the liver. Milk thistle is best when it’s fresh grown and organic. Artichoke enhances the regeneration of damaged liver cells, and dandelion increases the production of bile by the liver.

There are many wonderful herbal formulas available for all aspects of liver disharmonies. Each aspect of a liver disharmony may require a different herbal formula. For example, gastrointestinal issues will have a different liver formula prescribed than a formula to treat seizures. Because of the complexity of liver disharmonies, it’s best to consult a holistic veterinarian trained in Chinese medicine for a complete exam and the appropriate therapy.

Lifetime liver disharmony

It’s important to remember that balancing the liver does not happen in a week. It is a long process that may continue throughout your dog’s lifetime. A dog with a “liver constitution” has a lifelong tendency to develop a liver condition as a result of emotional, environmental or physical stress he or she may have endured. Older dogs have a particularly difficult time bouncing back, especially if they have been exposed to long term steroid use, which can add insult to injury in the liver.

But don’t lose hope. Consult a holistic veterinarian and ask about acupuncture and herbal supplements. The right treatment can promote liver harmony for years to come.