when to euthanize a dog with liver failure
Dog Care & Tips

When to Euthanize a Dog With Liver Failure

It is never easy to hear that our dog is in pain, but worse, pain that they will not recover from since it will continue to progress. Though it is very possible to take care of a dog with liver failure and help preserve some longevity, it can take an emotional toll on us as the owner as well as our poor, sick dog.

When a dog has liver failure, it has good days and bad days. You may have considered having the dog put down because of the stage of liver failure that it is in, rather than wait it out. Some days it will seem normal and be able to function. Other days it might have trouble just getting up and out of bed. 

However, when you witness your dog on one of those good days, you might regret having previous feelings about putting your dog down because of the pain that it is in, even if you know that it will not recover in the end. It is a challenging and complex time for your dog, yourself, and anyone else in the home.

It is emotionally painful for us when we see our furry friends suffering, especially from something that we know infringes on their quality of life. Below is some guidance to assist you in the ever-tough decision of when to euthanize your canine companion who is suffering from liver failure.

WHY IS MY DOG’S LIVER IMPORTANT?

First, let’s address why a dog’s liver is important. While many organs of the body are essential, the liver does so many jobs within a dog, including:

  • Creation of new red blood cells
  • Composition of bile acids for digesting foods
  • Removes toxins and drugs within the blood
  • Makes proteins
  • Metabolizes fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
  • Supports the immune system

This organ is crucial for a dog’s wellbeing, so when their liver fails, that organ cannot be regenerated or brought back to function correctly with ease. Another problem with liver failure is that it can slowly develop within dogs, and since they cannot tell us when something is off, we may not notice any signs until things go from bad to worse.

INGESTION OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CAN LEAD TO LIVER FAILURE

Liver disorders within dogs are caused by multiple factors, some of them being bacterial or viral infections, parasites, cancer, chronic diseases, or the ingestion of toxic substances. These disorders don’t always show up or cause problems in dogs until they are older. However, if your dog has an inherited liver disorder, you may see more signs and symptoms early on, like stunted growth. 

Some toxic substances to dogs that can cause liver failure are more common household items that you should watch out that your dog does not ingest, and these include:

  • Gum (more specifically Xylitol)
  • Mushrooms (Amanita)
  • Sago Palm Plants
  • Anti-inflammatory and other medications (if they ingest many)
  • Blue-green algae
  • Aflatoxins (corn, peanuts, grains)

Do what you can to keep all of these substances away from your dog. However, if your dog happens to ingest any of the above, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away. Even if it is not one of the above-listed substances, but you are concerned that your dog ingested something foreign, it is worth asking to find out if it can be toxic for your pup.

THE TYPES OF LIVER FAILURE WITHIN DOGS

When liver function is decreased enough to cause a severe condition, two primary forms of liver failure are found in dogs. These types are known as acute liver failure and chronic liver failure.

Acute Liver Failure (ALF) is diagnosed when there is a sudden loss of more than 75% of the functional organ. The most common causes of acute liver failure could be toxins, drug reactions, infection diseases, and parasites. Dogs diagnosed with ALF seem to have a better chance for recovery since this is a sudden onset and can be detected more immediately. 

Chronic Liver Failure is a disease that dogs can live with for long periods of time. However, the slower progression of this disease makes it very hard to detect, with causes ranging from unknown infections to immune-mediated disease. When it becomes worse within dogs, that’s when it causes cirrhosis and the liver to fail.

The liver functions in producing the protein called Albumin, which helps prevent leakage in blood vessels and makes the acid break down foods for digestion.  When the dog is in liver failure, this protein stops working since it cannot be produced by the liver. 

COMMON SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF LIVER FAILURE WITHIN DOGS

There are multiple signs and symptoms of liver failure. Therefore, it is vital to pay attention to our dog’s behavior and assess, maybe even reach out virtually and ask a vet a question online if you have any concerns about your dog’s health or if you are questioning certain behaviors.

Some of the more common symptoms that can indicate liver failure include:

  • Sleeping all day, lethargy, trouble getting up
  • Vomiting or Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite or loss of weight
  • Significant increase in thirst and urination
  • Yellow coloring of the whites of their eyes or skin
  • Swollen abdomen

If you notice any of these symptoms within your dog, make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately and find out if you should bring your dog in for testing. If liver failure is caught early enough, it can be slowed down from progressing too quickly.

Whichever way you look at it, liver failure is a disease that affects dogs to the point where choosing to have them put down is the less painful option. However, it reduces your furry friend’s quality of life, and this should be the basis and most significant factor in the choice to have your dog euthanized. 

THE EARLY, MIDDLE, AND END STAGES OF LIVER FAILURE

In the early stages of liver disease, the liver is still able to function mostly. Your dog could just have a more picky appetite or had some nausea and vomiting occur. Their liver is experiencing an ongoing inflammation due to an underlying cause and can be treated if caught early enough with special food supplements. 

These supplements are worth starting your dog on right away to help reduce damage and slow down the progression of liver ailments for your dog. There are also special prescription foods available for dogs with liver disease, formulated so that they can work to prevent the neurological issues that develop and are more easily digestible for your dog. Bringing your dog to the vet in this stage is what will provide your dog the best chance at the longevity of life.

In the middle stages of liver failure, the disease progresses, and the organ starts to quit doing things that it should be doing. In this stage, you will notice more prominent symptoms and signs like yellowing your dog’s skin or eyes or the swollen abdomen.

Once it has progressed to the end stage, your dog will experience a shift in mentality. Neurological signs and symptoms will start popping up, such as dizziness, disorientation, blindness, even seizures. In addition, your dog may start wandering around aimlessly. This behavior occurs because the liver has wholly stopped ridding your dog’s body of the toxins, allowing them to build up within and cause these harmful, painful effects. 

When the liver is failing, many-body systems are affected since the fluid is building up in the belly. Infections become more frequent since the blood doesn’t clot fast enough, and less protein is being produced, so overall circulation becomes clogged. 

Another consequence of liver failure comes with high ammonia levels, which build due to the decrease in protein metabolism. It can lead to yet another condition within dogs that affects their brains, called hepatic encephalopathy. Their central nervous system is disrupted, and behaviors like sudden aggression or the end-stage signs mentioned previously will occur. Other symptoms include bleeding into the intestine, constipation, and low blood potassium. 

At this stage in your dog’s life, you have to wonder how much longer you wish for your dog to continue to suffer from this disease. However, while making the decision to let go with euthanasia, it can be complicated to make that decision without some assistance.

HOW LONG CAN MY DOG SURVIVE IN LIVER FAILURE?

This question of survival rate is expected with dog owners who don’t want to choose to euthanize. The answer to this question is dependent on the stage of liver failure that the dog is in and possibly the cause of the liver failure. If it is within the first and early stages, your dog will still have some function of its liver and can probably carry on for some time with supplements from its veterinarian.

If the progression of the disease is happening faster, you will see more of the middle to end-stage symptoms and signs, and the chance for the longevity of their life is slim. Once a dog is in the middle to end stages of liver failure, your only option is to make your dog comfortable by treating the pain and symptoms.

So, how long can your dog survive? 

If in the early stage, you might see it survive for up to a few months or more, possibly even a year or so if you are lucky enough. When it has reached the end stage, you may only have days, if that at all. You can work to create a new diet and lifestyle in an attempt to combat the disease, but it is not much you can do to save a dog with an existing liver failure condition.

WHEN TO MAKE THE DECISION TO EUTHANIZE YOUR DOG IN LIVER FAILURE

To be honest, the decision to euthanize your ailing dog is utterly and ultimately your call. Deciding the “right time” for it to occur can be one of the most painful and agonizing processes that you will have to deal with in your life. We view our dogs as companions, friends, and part of the family. It can be heartbreaking to be present while your dog is going through its days in liver failure.

Some of the best advice you can go by is this: if you are comfortable enough, talk with family and friends about making this decision. Even your veterinarian can probably offer some very sage advice for you at this time. In addition, you can receive help with coping or even find people who have gone through a similar situation that you can lean on and obtain information on what to expect and how they might have gone about making their decision.

The most crucial aspect that you should focus on when deciding is your dog’s quality of life. Access how their days are going and ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Is my dog having more bad days than good? 
  • Has my dog stopped eating for more than a day or two? 
  • Can my dog go to the bathroom and eat on its own?
  • Is my dog sleeping well at night? 
  • Is my dog having seizures from the pain? 
  • Is my dog able to enjoy or participate in any activities/can it walk?
  • Is my dog lethargic, having trouble moving, and in a constant state of laying down?
  • Is my dog comfortable, or does it seem to be suffering?

Go through this list, and find more checklists involving your dog’s quality of life if you need that extra assistance to evaluate and decide. This assessment and its answers of “no” should help to provide a clear indication that it might be time to euthanize so that you can relieve the dog from agony. Answer all of the questions as objectively as possible.

If you have many “no” answers to the questions above, you need to consider the possibility that the suffering and pain are too much for your dog, as difficult as that may be. When you decide to make that decision to stop your dog’s suffering, this is another point in time where you may want to lean on some friends and family to help you in the aftermath and or cope with your decision.

So, when exactly is it the right decision to euthanize? Many veterinarians will say if your dog has not eaten for more than a couple of days, or you can see that they are not having a true quality of life, then it is time to end their pain.

There is no clear answer on the decision to let your dog go, and it will be different for every owner and their canine. Make sure to discuss with your veterinarian about life expectancy, as well as evaluate your dog’s comfort level every day, and try to get a clear picture as to how much the dog is feeling pain or suffering. The more prepared and informed you are, it may help with making this heartwrenching decision for euthanasia.

No one likes to see their dog dealing with pain. Continue to provide as much love and care as you can during the onset of liver failure. If you have to euthanize, be sure to prepare for the emotions you will be feeling, difficulty in coping, and continue talking to family, friends, and others who have had to go through this experience.

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