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The liver is a vital organ for survival and well being. It is quite the miracle organ and has many functions in the body. One of the main jobs of the liver is to detoxify the body from external and internal toxins. There are many external ones in our environment no matter how careful we are about the foods we feed or water we give. Internally, the body breaks down proteins and red blood cells and the liver helps to remove these from the body. Another important function is the synthesis of proteins and such things as factors that help the body clot the blood. Bile is made by the liver and is necessary for the digestion of fats. A form of sugar is stored by the body (glycogen) and can be changed in times of need into energy for cellular use.

With those many jobs, the signs of liver disease or misfunction are quite varied as are the diseases. As the main detox organ, the liver is very prone to being damaged by toxins and drugs. Pretty much all drugs go through some processing in the liver and can cause damage in the process. of this. Certain antibiotics, cancer drugs and corticosteroids are especially harmful. Infections of a viral or bacterial nature certainly can be in the liver as well. The liver can develop cancer on its own and is a prime area for cancers in other areas to spread. Cirrhosis (scarring) of this organ can happen in pets as in people, though we don't always know the cause. Fatty liver syndrome is common especially in cats who aren't eating enough. They have an unusual metabolism that requires a certain amount of protein daily and if not consumed, fat starts to deposit in the liver and can cause severe dysfunction of that organ. Less commonly, cysts can be in the liver or the blood supply to the liver may be abnormal and cause disease from such structural abnormalities.

Signs that the liver is struggling can include most anything. Commonly, lack of appetite or vomiting and diarrhea occur. Fatigue can be present. Discoloration of the urine, stools (pale), skin, tongue and whites of eyes can occur with disorders in the handling of bile functions of the liver or if too many red blood cells are being destroyed too fast for the liver to process them properly. If albumin (a protein made by the liver) is too low water leakage out of the blood vessels occurs and swelling of the belly and legs happens. Bruising and any size of bleed can happen when the clotting is affected.

The diagnosis of liver disease can be tricky as blood tests are hard to interpret. Some of them are altered by other factors in the body. Therefore, the history and physical exam and symptoms as well as other tests are important to have to really pinpoint the liver as the organ of interest. Additional tests may include special blood tests to see if bile is being properyly processed, drug toxin levels, x-rays, ultrasound or MRI and biopsy of the liver tissue itself.

Often the treatment for liver trouble is symptomatic unless a known toxin or drug is the cause and then the removal of that, plus supportive care is the therapy of choice. In the rare occassion of a cyst or abnormal blood vessel development, corrective surgery is needed. In severe cases, hospitalization with intravenous fluids, special feeding methods, antibiotics, supportive herbs and more may be needed. Definitely a diet low in a high quality protein is indicated when the liver is struggling. B vitamins are a good aid as is Milk Thistle.

Obviously, prevention is best. Keep your pet away from all toxins. Feed high quality foods with no additives or preservatives when possible. Don't use known drugs that damage the liver unless absolutely necessary (such as sulfa drugs, corticosteroids, some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, cancer drugs etc...). Always ask your veterinarian about any potential side effects of any medication prescribed so you can spot any trouble before it becomes irreversable.

Fortunately, the liver is one of the body's most able to regenerate organs, so even if damaged (unless beyond repair) it can usually regrow and work again after a temporary insult or disease.

I hope this gives you some understanding of this multitalented organ, the liver. For general liver support, check out our products here: Hepato Support for Dogs and Cats and Liquid Hepato Support For Pets for cats and smaller dogs.

Recommended entertainment; Book "Tiger's Curse" by Colleen Houck. An adventurous and magical tail of a teenage girl and a white tiger. See www.tigerscursebook.com for more info.

Until next time,

Dr. Jan

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