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Kidney and liver diseases


Published: May 14, 2013

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Kidney disease refers to any condition that damages the organs and results in impaired kidney function. Normally, the kidney works as an organic filtering system that screens waste products from the blood stream and excretes them into the urine. Kidneys also regulate the body’s fluid composition and the nutrient content of the blood and produce hormones that control red blood cell production and blood pressure.

Kidney disease is characterized as a cube (of recent origination) or chronic (of long duration). Acute kidney disease affects animals at any age and is caused by trauma, disease or poison that damages the kidney. Common causes of acute kidney disease include chemical toxin like antifreeze, certain prescription drugs or infectious agents like leptospirosis.

Liver diseases

This refers to the diseases or conditions that interfere with any of the liver’s normal functions. The liver is a large organ located in the most forward part of the abdomen, resting against the muscular portion (the diaphragm) between the abdomen and chest cavities. The liver is essential for life and performs over 100 important functions, such as detoxifying poisons and drugs, metabolizing fats, storing carbohydrates, manufacturing bile, plasma proteins and other substances, and assisting in blood clotting. The liver is essentially an organic filter that removes waste and detoxifies drugs and poison, and acts as a factory that manufactures and process nutrients and enzymes.

Food in the intestine is absorbed into the blood which then ferries specific components to the liver. There, sugars and fats are processed, amino acids are produced and certain vitamins and minerals are stored. The liver also manufactures hormones important blood clotting enzymes and a substance called bile that allows fat to be absorbed. Other substances such as drugs that are carried by the blood are metabolized or altered by the liver into other forms. Foreign materials, including viruses and bacteria or poisons, are filtered out in an effort to protect the rest of the body from damage. It is for this reason that an animal’s liver is exposed to diseases and injury more than any other part of the body.

Other conditions affecting liver function include birth defects, parasites and cancer. Liver disease is serious and often life-threatening to your pet.

Liver disease is often difficult to detect until the illness becomes severe because there is an over-abundance of liver tissues, and the liver can partially regenerate itself. The signs of liver disease vary with the degree and location of damage. However, whatever their causes, the signs are remarkably similar. Commonly, liver diseases result in anorexia (lack of appetite), vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and lethargy. When bile backs up in the circulation it can turn light-colored areas of the animal’s body pale yellow or tea-colored. This is called jaundice and is most easily seen in the white of the eyes, gums or inner surface of the ear flap. Increased pressure of the veins that drain the liver may result in ascites, which is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. The animal’s abdomen will appear swollen or bloated. Hemorrhages are another sign of advanced liver disease, with bleeding into the stomach, intestines and urinary tract.

Various blood tests are necessary to discover the extent and nature of liver damage. In many cases, surgical removal of small pieces of liver tissue (liver biopsy) is the only way to diagnose the type of liver disease.


Treatment depends on the specific causes of the disease. Some types of liver diseases can only be treated in the hospital, while others are treated on an outpatient basis. Some liver diseases can be cured while in others, the goal of treatment is to control the disease.

Chronic hepatitis is the most common liver disease in dogs. Feline Hepatic Lipidosis also called fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease in cats. Overweight cats are at highest risk for this condition, and the definitive sign is when an obese cat suddenly stops eating. For reasons not completely understood, fat is moved into the liver and becomes trapped, resulting in compromised liver functions. Chronic hepatitis cases are idiopathic, which means that no definitive cause can be determined. When a cause can be determined, it is often due to another generalized disease such as cancer, kidney disease or an infection such as Leptospirosis. Treatment consists primarily of supportive care (IV fluids, antibiotics, etc.) Prognosis depends on the cause, but usually is not too good. About 30 percent of animals suffering from hepatitis will die within one week of diagnosis, despite treatment.

A congenital deficiency may result in portosystemic shunt, which is an abnormal connection of a vein into the liver that should normally close off shortly after the newborn is born. Surgical correction is the treatment of choice for some types of shunts.

A diet with a non-meat protein places less strain on the liver and gives it a chance to heal. However, it is best to follow your vet’s advice since he or she is most familiar with your dog’s diagnosis, clinical condition and dietary needs. There is no way to prevent congenial liver problems or to anticipate some immune or bacterial conditions that affect the liver. However, in cats you can reduce the risk of Feline Hepatic Lipodosis by keeping your cat slim. Also protecting your pets from poisons will help prevent toxicity induced liver damage.

• Dr. Basil Sands can be contacted at Central Animal Hospital at 325-1288.

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