Supplements To Support Liver Disease

by Teresa Garden, DVM

Liver diseases are common ailments in both dogs and cats. Signs and symptoms are similar to those found in people: anorexia, weight loss, depression, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and increases in drinking and urination. Severe cases will present with jaundice and ascites (abdominal distension due to fluid accumulation). Liver diseases can be acute or chronic in nature and are caused by a variety of forces. Your veterinarian can diagnose liver disease based upon history, physical exam findings, and blood and urine tests. Abdominal ultrasound and biopsy of the liver may be needed to identify an exact cause of chronic liver disease. Acute insults to the liver will usually respond favorably to treatment in just a few weeks. Chronic liver diseases may be medically managed successfully over a period of months or years depending upon the underlying etiology. Many liver disorders will respond well to dietary therapy enhanced with various supplements.

Early stages of liver disease is characterized by inflammation of the organ tissue. The next stage of pathology is fibrosis. The end-stage of liver disease is cirrhosis. The liver is a remarkable organ that can repair and regenerate if treated properly and promptly. When diagnosed and treated early, fibrosis and cirrhosis may be prevented. The goals of treatment are: reduce metabolic and toxic waste, protect liver cells, reduce scarring, support organ repair, reduce drug dosing and intervals, identify and eliminate the cause of the disease if possible, and decrease disease pathology.

Home-made diets that are highly digestible and high in biological value are often employed. These diets may use vegetable or dairy products as their protein source. I have also recommended a liver cleansing diet consisting of white fish and sweet potatoes.

Home-made diets take more time and care to prepare but most sick pets find them tastier than prescription diets for liver disease. I often advise adding a little fresh chicken or beef liver to the diet. It is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, aminoacids, and other nutrients a diseased liver can use to repair and regenerate.

Fortunately for all of us, the liver responds well to therapy involving herbs, antioxidants, and nutritional supplements. The herb Milk Thistle, (Silybum marianum), acts as an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and stabilizes hepatic cell membranes. It will reduce damage from toxic insults to improve survival, liver function tests, and histopathology. Milk Thistle may help increase synthesis of albumin by stimulating RNA polymerase in hepatocytes. There is evidence it will slow down the cirrhotic process and manage ascites as well. Milk Thistle has a high therapeutic index and is safe for long-term use. Tumeric has antioxidant properties and has been shown to inhibit hepatocellular carcinogenesis as well as toxin-induced damage to the liver. Schisandra is a traditional Chinese herb that can protect an animal’s liver from toxin damage.

The antioxidant Vitamin E is often employed in treating many liver disorders in order to reduce immune imbalances and the toxicity of bile acids to hepatocytes. The d-alpha form is preferred since it is more available and active in the liver. S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a potent antioxidant that detoxifies free radicals and regenerates intracellular glutathione. Glutathione helps the liver rid the body of toxins, chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals. Glutathione can be increased by adding whey protein and alpha lipoic acid to the therapeutic protocol.

Glandular liver therapy is utilized for many liver disorders. Glandular therapy will help to improve organ function, reduce inflammation, protect liver cells, and enhance metabolic elimination of toxins and wastes. Standard Process is a preferred brand which most dogs (and even cats) find tasty to eat!

Liver health depends on reducing toxins and metabolic wastes and increasing antioxidants and phytonutrients. Liver cell regeneration can be improved if proper nutrition and supplements are employed to reduce inflammation and spare the liver. Once healthy, the liver can again act as the body’s filter and detoxifier. Integrative therapies will give us the best chance of restoring optimum function to your pet’s liver.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood/Richmond Heights area.
AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.