Why Your Dog Should Eat More Liver

can dogs eat liver

If your dog doesn’t eat liver … he’s missing out. 

Not only on something he might really love eating. But on a powerful source of nutrients to keep him healthy.

I grew up eating organ meats … like any good farmer’s daughter!  Liver, kidneys, brains, sweetbreads … I loved them all and your dog will too! 

But let’s focus on liver for now.  

Feeding your dog liver has countless benefits … and he may not get enough of it. 

What’s So Good About Liver?

If you give your dog a great raw diet …  liver’s an important part of it. It’s really a superfood for dogs! 

Some people compare liver to nature’s multivitamin. That’s because it’s rich in so many important nutrients: 

  • Vitamin A – a powerful antioxidant. It supports digestion and reproductive organs. 
  • Vitamin D ­– a vitally important nutrient for immune function. It helps protect against cancers, autoimmune and infectious diseases. It supports muscle and bone strength too. 
  • Folic acid, B vitamins ­ ­– support mental and nerve health. They help avoid fatigue and prevent anemia.  
  • Iron – forms hemoglobin, brain function, regulates body temperature. Iron transports oxygen to the blood cells. This increases your dog’s endurance and strength. Lack of iron depletes antibodies and T-cells in the immune system.    
  • Other minerals (like copper and zinc) – support bone and joint health, skin, coat, immunity.

And of course, liver’s a great source of protein that’s also lower in fat than muscle meat.

Liver vs Muscle Meat

In fact, just for fun … I compared 100g of lean ground beef to 100g of beef liver. And here’s where I found some big differences.

Liver has …

  • 6 times as much iron
  • 23 times more calcium
  • Twice as much niacin
  • 16 times more vitamin D
  • 100 times more copper
  • 5 times more choline
  • 20 times more zinc
  • 260 times more magnesium
  • 6 times more phosphorus
  • 1200 times more vitamin A
  • 1300 times more manganese
  • 1/3 the amount of total fat
  • 1/3 the amount of saturated fat

Those are some astounding numbers! You can see what a wealth of nutrients liver offers!

And .. if you buy liver from pasture-raised animals, you’ll increase the benefits. The essential nutrients will be even higher than they are in factory-farmed animals. 

But any kind of liver provides your dog with excellent nutrition. 

Is Liver Safe For Dogs To Eat?

You might wonder if liver’s really safe for your dog.  Some people worry about the liver’s job in the body. 

One important role the liver has is filtering toxins out of the body.

So you might think those toxins can harm your dog. 

Because of this, many people say you should feed only organic or grass-fed liver. 

But … don’t let this idea stop you. 

Even though the liver cleanses toxins from the body … 

… it doesn’t store those toxins. 

In fact … muscle meats are typically higher in unwanted toxins than liver.

So liver won’t poison your dog. And even if it’s not organic or grass-fed … it’s still a hugely healthy food for your dog. 

Organic or grass-fed meats are always healthiest. You’ll avoid toxins like herbicides or antibiotics in meat.

But any liver is good for your dog. 

There’s another advantage to feeding liver … and that’s to support the liver itself. 

Eating Liver Benefits the Liver

Your dog’s liver performs thousands of vital functions in the body. So it’s important to support the liver itself …

And you can boost liver health by feeding your dog liver

In various types of natural medicine principles … including Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine … 

… feeding a specific organ benefits that organ.

Feeding kidneys can strengthen the kidney. Feeding pancreas supports the pancreas. Heart meat helps heart health.

So, if your dog eats liver … it will fortify the liver. 

So you can directly boost your dog’s liver health … by giving him liver

What Kind Of Liver To Feed

I give my dogs liver from a lot of different animals. I’m lucky to have sources for many organs. I can get liver from …:

I like feeding a lot of different proteins because they all have different nutrients. So my dogs get a wider range of nourishment.

Where To Find Liver

Places to buy different livers (and other organ meats) are …

  • A real butcher’s shop (not supermarket)
  • Abattoir
  • Local farmer
  • Farmer’s markets
  • Dog food suppliers (local or online)

But let’s suppose the grocery store is your only source of liver. Then you might be stuck with only a couple of choices.

Supermarket Liver

Most supermarkets have beef or calves liver. Sometimes you’ll find them in the freezer. 

But just about any store will have chicken livers. They’re usually in the meat section, in plastic containers. Or sometimes they’ll be in the freezer aisle. 

So which should you choose?

Let’s look at the nutritional differences between beef and chicken livers:

Beef liver is higher in several minerals than chicken livers …

  • Magnesium – for cellular, muscle and bone health
  • Phosphorus – works with calcium to build teeth and bones
  • Zinc – antioxidant, skin health, immune support
  • Copper – supports iron metabolism, red blood cells, hair color
  • Manganese – support several aspects of metabolism
  • Calcium – essential for bone and muscle health
  • Iron – transports oxygen in the blood, prevents anemia

But chicken livers have more … 

  • Selenium – antioxidant, important for thyroid health, immunity
  • Niacin (vitamin B3) – cardiovascular, brain and skin health
  • Thiamin (vitamin B1) – creates energy in the cells
  • Retinol (a usable form of vitamin A) – antioxidant, eye and skin health
  • Beta carotene (a less usable kind of vitamin A) – antioxidant, brain and lung health
  • Vitamin C – supports joint health and wound healing
  • Vitamin D – bone health, skin health, disease prevention

There’s a difference in the fats too. Chicken livers have about 30% more total fat than beef liver. And … like chicken meat generally, chicken livers are higher in polyunsaturated fats than beef liver. 

But …

  • Liver is lower in fat than muscle meats 
  • Liver forms a small amount of your dog’s overall diet

… this difference in fats doesn’t make a significant difference to the overall fats in your dog’s diet. 

So there are trade-offs whichever one you choose. This means, if you can get both, it’s a good idea to alternate.

But no matter what … any kind of liver will give your dog some nutrients he may not be getting otherwise. 

And again, if you can find a way to buy more different liver sources, even better!

Feed Liver Raw

To really give your dog the rich benefits of liver, he should eat it raw. 

Cooking kills a lot of nutrients. 

In fact, the USDA published a 2007 paper showing the nutrient loss from cooking various foods.

They found that simmering liver caused the loss of … 

  • 40% of iron, magnesium and vitamin A
  • 55% of niacin and B6 
  • 35% of folate
  • 30% of phosphorus
  • 25% of copper and vitamin C

Calcium, beta carotene and choline were liver nutrients minimally affected by heating. 

So obviously it’s much better to feed liver raw if you can. 

If Your Dog Doesn’t Like Raw Liver

But not every dog likes to eat raw liver. Mine don’t like the texture …  so here’s what I do to get liver into them … (and then they love it). 

  • Grind it and mix with other meats. Disguising it can help!
  • Feed a “whole prey” grind – available at many raw food suppliers. These contain ground-up whole animals … muscle meat, bone, and organs. (And because they came from the whole animal, they’re in the right proportions!)
  • Lightly sear the outside of the liver in a hot pan with a little fat. Just enough to change the texture but not cook it through. 
  • Make dehydrated treats. Dehydrating temperatures are low (145OF).  They don’t really “cook” the liver … so it loses fewer nutrients.

Tip: Chicken or turkey livers make great little bite-sized treats. Dehydrate them whole or cut in half. Less slicing required than other livers! 

How Much Liver To Feed

How much liver to give depends on whether you’re feeding any other organ meats.

In raw feeding, the idea is to feed the same ratio of body parts that’s in the whole prey. 

In wild animals, organs (including skin) are up to about 25% of body weight. 

So … if you were feeding lots of other organ meats … you could give varied organs up to about 25% of your dog’s diet. 

Read more about organ meats in the raw diet.

But if you’re only feeding one organ … and it’s liver, feed it as 5-10% of your dog’s diet, by weight. 

But be careful! If your dog hasn’t had liver before … don’t add this amount all at once! 

Go Slow

If your dog’s not used to eating liver, start slowly. Because liver’s so rich in nutrients, it can cause tummy upset or loose stool. 

So ease him into liver-feeding gradually!

Start with about ½ Tbsp a few times a week for a medium sized dog. 

Keep an eye on his reaction. If you hear tummy gurgling or see loose stools, feed a bit less liver until his digestive system adapts. 

Cautions

There are a couple of reasons not to go overboard feeding too much liver!

Copper Toxicity

If you have a Bedlington Terrier, don’t overdo the liver. 

There are a few dogs who have problems with copper metabolism. Liver is high in copper. Bedlington Terriers are genetically less able to excrete copper. 

Some other breeds may be more susceptible to copper toxicity too: 

  • Bedlington Terriers
  • Dobermans
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Skye Terriers
  • Dalmatians
  • Labrador Retrievers

This is a problem that will accumulate over time. You likely won’t see a sudden change. Signs of liver disease from copper toxicity include: 

  • Weight loss
  • Reduced appetite
  • Excessive peeing
  • Diarrhea
  • Intermittent vomiting

Talk to your vet if you notice these problems. Bloodwork may also show higher liver enzymes … such as alanine transaminase (ALT). 

But you should still be able to give your dog liver. AAFCO’s recommended amounts for copper for adult dogs are 20 mg per 1000 calories per day.  That’s a minimum and they don’t provide a top limit. 

Per the USDA Nutrient Database, here are the amounts of copper in 100g of various livers …

So if you’re concerned about copper in liver because of your dog’s breed … you’d be very safe with chicken, turkey and pork. They’re way lower in copper. 

And … zinc is also plentiful in liver, and zinc reduces copper absorption!

Vitamin A Excess

Some people worry about vitamin A excess. Excess vitamin A can cause liver damage and decalcify bones and teeth. 

But you’re unlikely to cause it from feeding liver. Here are some numbers.


AAFCO’s recommended maximum vitamin A is 62,500 IU per 1000 calories. 

  • 100g of beef liver is 135 calories, with 16,989 IU of vitamin A
  • 100g of chicken liver has 119 calories, with 11,078 IU of vitamin A

So you can see, you’re unlikely to go over the maximum … unless you really over-feed liver. And vitamin A excess is cumulative. So you’d have to do that every day, for months or years! 

Is There An Easier Way?

Yes, liver is a bit icky. So it might gross you out to feed it. Even though it’s got so many great vitamins and minerals. 

And you may be wondering, “can’t I just give a liver supplement for dogs instead?”

Well … yes, you can!

Liver Supplement For Dogs

If you really can’t stomach giving your dog liver … there is a solution.

And that’s to feed glandular supplements. 

Glandulars are 100% natural supplements made from whole dessicated organ meats. And they can be a great way to give your dog the nutrients he’s missing. 

You can buy supplements with individual organs, or various blends.

Read more about the benefits of glandulars

So, one way or another … you need to give your dog liver.

It’s a delicious (to him, at least) food that’s packed with wonderful health advantages! 

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