When to Euthanize a Dog with Liver Failure? (Advice from Vets)

When to Euthanize a Dog with Liver Failure

If your dog is considerably suffering from liver failure, has extreme depression, and is showing signs of an inability to endure an adequate quality of life – it’s probably time to consider euthanizing your dog. A complete shutdown of the liver, consistent distress and an incapability to function are also signs that you might want to consider.

Euthanization is never an easy topic. It’s a possible loss in your life, which can bring on significant distress, sadness, and anxiety for you. But if your pooch is near the end, or is suffering considerably, you might feel prepared to let your dog go and no longer be in pain.

What is Liver Failure in Dogs?

Liver failure is a condition where the liver is severely damaged or dysfunctional, affecting its normal functions.

The liver plays many essential roles in a dog’s body including:

  • Removing toxins from the blood
  • Aiding digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Regulating blood clotting
  • Storing vitamins, minerals, and sugars for energy
  • Producing proteins and enzymes

If the liver stops working properly, it disrupts these processes, causing various health problems.

There are two main types of liver failure in dogs:

Acute liver failure in dogs is sudden and worsens quickly, usually within days or weeks.

Chronic liver failure develops gradually, often over months or years.

Specific incidents, such as ingesting toxins or medication overdose, often trigger acute liver failure. Underlying diseases, like cancer or chronic infections, can cause chronic liver failure over time.

Signs of Liver Failure in Dogs

Liver failure causes toxins to build up in the blood and affects the body’s ability to regulate nutrients and functions. This condition can lead to various symptoms, from mild to severe. Recognizing liver disease symptoms is vital for timely veterinary treatment.

Early Stage Liver Failure Symptoms

In early-stage liver failure, dogs may show subtle signs including:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Occasional vomiting or diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain or distension

Blood tests can show high liver enzymes, indicating inflammation and early liver dysfunction. However, in the early stages of liver failure, many dogs may not show specific symptoms. Regular veterinary checkups and screenings are crucial to detect these problems early.

Middle Stage Liver Failure Symptoms

As liver failure progresses to the middle stage, clinical signs become more noticeable:

  • Jaundice – yellowing of gums, skin, and whites of the eyes
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen – ascites
  • Dark or bloody urine
  • Increased thirst and frequent urination
  • Pale stools and tarry black feces
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Behavioral changes – lethargy, irritability
  • Head pressing and circling due to ammonia buildup

End Stage Liver Failure Symptoms

In end-stage liver failure, dogs develop severe and often life-threatening signs:

  • Fluid retention – swelling of the abdomen, limbs, under the chest
  • Vomiting blood and black, tarry stool
  • Yellow skin and gums
  • Severe weight loss and muscle wasting
  • Confusion, seizures, coma
  • Abdominal pain and crying out
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Extreme lethargy – inability to stand
  • Labored breathing
  • Multiple organ failure

Prompt veterinary care is essential in advanced liver failure to control symptoms and prevent suffering. In cases where a dog’s quality of life is severely poor due to liver failure, veterinarians may recommend euthanasia.

The Stages of Liver Failure in Dogs

Liver failure in dogs goes through three stages, with increasing liver tissue damage and disease. Understanding the distinction between stages helps determine prognosis, treatment options, and care.

Early Stage Liver Failure

The early stage of liver failure is often overlooked, as signs can be subtle.

In the early stage, the liver shows stress, cellular damage, and inflammation but still functions partially. With supportive veterinary care, further damage may be limited.

Middle Stage Liver Failure

In the middle stage of liver failure, clinical signs become more noticeable.

At this stage, the liver is badly damaged and fails to perform several of its key functions. Hospitalization for treatment may be necessary.

End Stage Liver Failure

In end-stage liver failure, the liver has almost completely lost its function.

End-stage liver failure carries a serious prognosis and often needs intensive hospital care to to stabilize the dog. Due to the poor quality of life in this stage, euthanasia is often considered.

What Causes Liver Failure in Dogs?

Common causes of liver failure include:

  • Toxins – such as xylitol, acetaminophen, poisonous plants, blue-green algae
  • Medications – anesthesia, NSAIDs, antiparasitics, antibiotics
  • Infections – leptospirosis, infectious canine hepatitis
  • Cancer – hematoma, nodular hyperplasia, hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Pancreatitis
  • Copper storage disease – Bedlington Terriers
  • Congenital portosystemic shunt – abnormal blood vessel development

Less common causes:

  • Trauma or injury – hit by a car, bite wounds
  • Heatstroke
  • Liver fluke infestation
  • Vascular disease – reduced blood flow
  • Gallbladder mucocele – obstructed bile

In many cases, the exact cause remains unknown – called idiopathic liver failure.

Acute Liver Failure

Acute liver failure develops rapidly over days or weeks. Toxins, drugs, infections, trauma, or cancer can trigger acute liver injury.

Chronic Liver Failure

Chronic liver disease progresses slowly over months or years. Causes include:

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Long-term exposure to toxins
  • Genetic conditions
  • Cancer
  • Infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • High cortisol levels

When to Consider Euthanasia for Dogs with Liver Failure?

At some point, liver failure may worsen to a stage where the dog’s quality of life is poor and treatment is no longer effective. In such cases, considering euthanasia may be necessary to prevent further suffering.

Factors to assess include:

Assess the quality of life by determining if the dog can enjoy normal activities without significant distress or pain.

Evaluate the response to treatment: whether the liver failure is improving with medication and care, or worsening despite intensive therapy.

Consider the progression of the disease: whether liver failure is rapidly advancing to end-stage despite treatment efforts.

Examine the overall health status, especially if the dog has multiple health issues affecting vital systems.

Consider the prognosis, including the vet’s assessment of recovery chances and expected lifespan, and whether liver failure is likely to be fatal soon.

Signs a dog may be suffering and ready for euthanasia:

  • Prolonged loss of appetite and interest in food
  • Extreme lethargy – unable to stand or walk
  • Heavy panting, labored breathing
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Uncontrolled pain
  • Seizures, delirium, coma
  • Ascites and limb swelling causing discomfort
  • Bleeding disorders and bruising

Euthanasia decision tips:

  • Have an honest discussion with your veterinarian
  • Prioritize your dog’s comfort over the length of life
  • Set clear criteria for unacceptable quality of life
  • Avoid waiting until the last minute or emergency situation
  • Arrange in-home euthanasia if possible for comfort
  • Prepare emotionally for the loss of your pet

How Long Can a Dog Survive with Liver Failure?

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with liver failure, this can come with various emotions. And understandably, one of the main questions people like to know is how long they’ll have with their dog. Unfortunately, there is no exact answer to such a question.

Each dog, depending on their circumstances and stage of liver failure, might have longer than others. Usually, a dog with liver failure can survive anywhere from a few months to a year or two.

How Long Can a Dog Live with End-Stage Liver Failure?

Each dog who has been diagnosed with end-stage liver failure will have varying time-frames for how long they can endure. Usually, a dog with end-stage liver failure will last anywhere from a few weeks (if lucky enough) but most times – just a few days (1 – 5).

Other times, the odds can be broken and some last longer than a year. Unfortunately, however, there is no true knowledge of how long your dog with end-stage liver failure has. As each case is different, with various circumstances, and odds to beat.

Is a Dog in Pain with Liver Failure?

Liver failure can cause pain for your dog but in varying degrees. Some dogs are believed to feel excruciating pain, physically and mentally. Whereas others might have mild symptoms – all the way until they pass.

How to Care for a Dog with Liver Failure?

Finding out that your dog has liver failure can be extremely sad, for both you and your pooch. Providing care and comfort for your dog during this time is the best thing you can do. But care and comfort will look different to everyone.

Here is a list of things you can do to properly care for a dog with liver failure:

  1. Pay close attention to his diet and support where appropriate
  2. Consider surgery as an option
  3. Support your dog by making life comfortable for him/her
  4. Permit the use of medicine to ease pain
  5. Ensure your dog maintains a level of fitness
  6. Identify when enough is enough (for your dog)

A dog with liver failure can create a whirlwind of emotions for you, as the owner. People often refer to it as a “rollercoaster” – given the unprecedented circumstances that come with it. As the owner, the best you can for both yourself and your dog is to try to maintain a good level of judgment, and support your dog where necessary.

What to Feed a Dog with Liver Failure?

Similar to kidney failure, dogs diagnosed with liver failure don’t necessarily need to be on a special diet. Unless you’ve been instructed by your veterinarian, a change is not always warranted.

However, some dogs with liver failure, especially those with elevated levels of enzymes will benefit from a diet change. Here are 3 nutritional tips to think about when feeding your dog with liver failure:

1. Energy-dense Foods

Liver failure has a huge effect on your dog’s energy levels, especially when nausea is accompanied. Energy-dense foods, even if taken in small portions, can still aid your dog’s well-being and efficiently assist the liver where possible.

2. Foods with Adequate Protein

Although a reduction in protein can support dogs with protein intolerance, it’s typically best to not make drastic changes in the protein you provide your dog or stop their protein intake altogether. The protein that you do provide your dog, however, should be of high quality.

3. Low Copper Foods

Too much copper, especially for dogs with liver failure, can cause damage rather than aiding their condition. Low copper foods can prevent toxin-buildup from releasing into their bloodstream, as well as assist in being able to manage their intake closely.

*Important note: For the benefit of your dog, we recommend that you consult with your veterinarian before changing your dog’s diet or implementing alternative foods.

Can Liver Problems in Dogs Cause Bad Breath?

If your dog is suffering from liver problems, you’ll likely notice bad breath. When the liver is unable to function properly, your dog’s mouth will produce an extremely foul odor. This is because your dog is unable to disperse the bad toxins inside of his body. Liver problems and bad breath are usually accompanied by other symptoms.

These symptoms can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Yellow gums

Unfortunately, there is no extra amount of brushing you can do to prevent this odor from reoccurring. If your dog is suffering from liver failure, bad breath is something you’ll need to tolerate for the time being.

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