Liver Failure (Acute) in Dogs


Acute Hepatic Failure in Dogs

Acute hepatic failure is a condition characterized by the sudden loss of 70 percent or more of the liver’s function due to sudden, massive, hepatic necrosis (tissue death in the liver).

Symptoms of Liver Failure in Dogs

Primary and secondary hepatobiliary disorders – those dealing with the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts or bile – are generally associated with variable hepatic necrosis. However, acute liver failure from severe hepatic necrosis is an uncommon phenomenon. Acute liver failure can affect the body through a number of system failures:

  • Gastrointestinal: vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool (hematochezia)
  • Nervous system: hepatic encephalopathy (brain disease related to liver failure)
  • Hepatobiliary: the liver plus the gallbladder; jaundice, necrosis (tissue death) of the liver cells and bile duct cells
  • Renal: the tubules of the kidney may be injured from toxins/metabolites
  • Immune/Lymphatic/Hemic: imbalances in the blood and lymphatic systems, may lead to coagulant (clotting) complications

Causes of Liver Failure in Dogs

Acute liver failure is most often caused by infectious agents or toxins, poor flow of fluids into the liver and surrounding tissues (perfusion), hypoxia (inability to breathe), drugs or chemicals that are destructive to the liver (hepatotoxic), and excess exposure to heat. Necrosis (tissue death) sets in, with loss of liver enzymes and impaired liver function ultimately leading to complete organ failure.

Acute liver failure also occurs due to extensive metabolic disorders in protein synthesis (albumin, transport protein, procoagulant and anticoagulant protein factors), and glucose absorption, as well as abnormalities in the metabolic detoxification process. If this condition is not treated promptly, it can result in death.

Diagnosis of Acute Liver Failure in Dogs

Acute liver failure is diagnosed through a full blood workup (hematology), biochemistry analysis, urine analysis, biopsy (the removal and analysis of affected tissue), and ultrasound or radiology imaging.

Hematology/biochemistry/urine analyses will test for:

  • Anemia
  • Irregularities in thrombocytes (clot promoting blood platelets)
  • Abnormally high liver enzyme activity, or liver enzymes spilling out into the bloodstream, signaling liver damage – tests will look for alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) enzymes in the bloodstream, as well as an increase in alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and declining levels of aminotransferases (enzymes that cause the chemical change of nitrogen carrying amino)
  • Impairment of protein synthesis
  • Low blood sugar
  • Normal to low blood urea nitrogen (BUN) concentration (i.e., nitrogen level in the urine)
  • The presence of bilirubin in the urine – the red-yellow bile pigment that is a degraded product of the deep red, nonprotein pigment in hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying pigment in red blood cells)
  • The presence of ammonium urate crystals in the urine
  • The presence of sugar and granular casts (solid deposits) in the urine, indicating internal tubular injury from drug toxicity, such as the drug induced toxicity that affects some dogs being treated with pain relievers (also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDS])

Lab Tests will be used to look for:

  • High values of total serum bile acid (TSBA) concentrations, which will indicate liver insufficiency. However, if non-hemolytic (not destructive to blood cells) jaundice has already been confirmed, TSBA findings will lose their significance in relation to acute liver failure
  • High plasma ammonia concentration; this, in conjunction with high TSBA concentrations, would be strongly indicative of hepatic insufficiency
  • Abnormalities in blood platelets and coagulation (blood clotting) factors
  • Tissue necrosis and cell pathology; biopsy (tissue sample) results will confirm or negate zonal involvements, and identify any existent underlying conditions

Imaging tests will look for:

  • X-rays and ultrasound tests may indicate an enlarged liver, and other hepatic abnormalities, including conditions that may not be directly related to the liver.

hypoxia

Less oxygen than normal in the blood

jaundice

A condition in which the skin becomes yellow in color as do the mucous membranes; this is due to excess amounts of bilirubin.

hepatitis

A condition in which the liver becomes inflamed

hepatic

Referring to the liver

hemolytic

The removal and destruction of red blood cells

lymphatic

Anything pertaining to the blood vessel system in the body

necrosis

A condition of dead tissue

urea

The product of protein being metabolized; can be found in blood or urine.

radiology

The study of the internal structures of the body as pertaining to ionizing radiation

perfusion

The flow of blood through bodily tissue

pathology

The study of the causes and development of disease

hemoglobin

The protein that moves oxygen in the blood

granular

Appearing like particles or small granules in texture

bilirubin

A certain pigment that is produced when hemoglobin is destroyed.

biopsy

The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

bile

The fluid created by the liver that helps food in the stomach to be digested.

anticoagulant

Term used to refer to any drug that is used to slow down or stop the clotting of blood for medical purposes.

albumin

A type of protein that can be dissolved in water; found in milk, egg white, certain muscle, blood, and some urine.

ducts

A passage in the body with walls

edema

The collection of fluid in the tissue

acute

Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.

enzyme

A substance that causes chemical change to another

enteric

The intestines

encephalopathy

A disease of the brain of any type

hematochezia

Passing stool with blood in it

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