The liver is a vital organ. That means your dog can’t live without it. Yet a staggering number of dogs suffer from liver disease, affecting not just their overall wellbeing, but their survival.
When your dog’s liver is working well, you don’t really think about it. But you should be thinking about the health of your dog’s liver … otherwise it can affect his entire body.
Here’s why liver health is important …
What Your Dog’s Liver Does
The liver has at least 500 different functions in the body, so it’s so critical to good health. The liver:
- Converts food to energy
- Stores vitamins A, D, E, K and some B vitamins
- Activates vitamin D
- Stores minerals including iron, copper, manganese and zinc
- Helps control hormones (including thyroid hormones)
- Removes bacteria and allergens that escape the intestines (leaky gut)
- Produces bile that helps digest foods, especially fat
- Produces glucose for your body to use when it needs energy
The liver also helps remove harmful toxins from your dog’s body.
The Liver Is Critical For Detoxification
Your dog gets exposed to toxins from vaccinations, drugs, and flea, tick and heartworm preventatives. Poor quality foods, cleaning products, fertilizers and pesticides also contain toxins your dog can absorb. Even if you don’t use these products, your neighbors probably do.
So these toxins need to be continuously removed from the body. If not, they’ll start to interfere with normal body functions and lead to disease. Toxins can even cause inflammation and allergy symptoms.
Your dog’s liver metabolizes everything your dog swallows, inhales or absorbs through his skin. It then expels it from your dog’s body. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your dog’s liver.
But how do you know if there’s a problem with your dog’s liver?
5 Signs Your Dog's Liver Is In Trouble
There are symptoms you’ll want to watch for … they can mean your dog’s liver is out of balance. Here are some of the more common signs:
Your dog may be irritable or even show aggressive behavior. He may show overly controlling behavior, acting like a hall monitor.
He may experience digestive disorders such as gas and bloating … even if he’s on a healthy raw food diet. You may see alternating constipation and diarrhea.
When you trim his toenails, you may find they’re dry and brittle; the nails may fray or even get infected.
We don’t think of dogs as getting headaches, but they can. You may notice your dog’s eyes are dull and he doesn’t feel good, perhaps lying with his head on his paws. If you can feel heat on his head, that can mean a headache, especially if you see other symptoms of liver imbalance.
Gently rub the area where the head meets the neck (called the occiput); if you feel the heat go away that can help relieve your dog’s headache.
Eye issues like discharge or pink eye can also suggest liver imbalance. So can more serious eye problems like corneal or retinal disorders,
Other signs that the liver is out of balance can be sinus problems as well as ligament and tendon issues. If you start to notice any of these symptoms in your dog, there are steps you can take to protect his liver.
Reduce The Toxic Load
The first step to keeping the liver functioning well is to reduce the amount of toxins your dog is exposed to. Here are the top ways to keep your dog safe:
- Reduce the number of unnecessary vaccines (or even forgo them altogether)
- Use new DNA testing in place of heartworm meds
- Feed fresh, whole foods instead of processed, toxin-laden foods
- Treat your dog for leaky gut so pathogens don't get into his body
- Give him filtered water, free of fluoride
- Keep him away from treated lawns
- Clean your home without chemicals
But even if you're already doing all of these things and you do your best to avoid toxins, your dog's liver still has to deal with our toxic world. A liver cleanse just makes good sense if you want to avoid health issues.
There are several ways to help your dog cleanse. Let's look at the most effective remedies for cleansing the liver.
How To Support Your Dog’s Liver
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver is associated with spring – a time of renewal and growth. This means spring is an especially good time to give your dog some extra nutritional support with foods that are fresh and in season.
Below are some herbs and foods that can help strengthen and protect your dog’s liver.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cauliflower contain sulforaphane. This sulfer rich compound helps support a normal inflammatory response and enhances liver function. It does this by helping to support the body from environmental toxins.
To do this, the liver has a 2 phase process. Phase I makes fat-soluble toxins more water soluble. And then in Phase II the toxins are moved to the kidney and gallbladder where they exit your dog’s body.
Sulforaphane helps ensure that the toxins move through the body by releasing important Phase II enzymes.
The best source of sulforaphane is broccoli sprouts. They have 100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli. In fact, most research projects use broccoli sprouts when studying its benefits.
Half a cup of broccoli sprouts is about 73 mg. But the amount you give your dog will depend on his size …
5 to 25 lbs … 1 – 5 mg
25 to 50 lbs … 5 – 10 mg
50 to 100 lbs … 10 – 20 mg
You can also use broccoli sprout powder. If you do, look for a product that is freeze dried. Heat will kill the beneficial nutrients. If you use powdered sprouts, give your dog …
5 to 25 lbs … 250 mg
25 to 50 lbs … 500 mg
50 to 100 lbs … 1,000 mg
Dandelions are a great way to enhance your dog’s liver function. As they start to come up in spring, pick some of the young leaves. Try to harvest the leaves before the plant buds. Once the buds appear the leaves will taste bitter.
Herbalists Gregory L Tilford and Mary L Wulff recommend drying the leaves before using them. You can do this outdoors by placing the leaves on a drying screen (or use a window screen covered with cheesecloth) in the shade for three or four days. If you want to dry the leaves indoors, tie them in a bundle and hang them in a dry airy spot until they’re crackly-dry.
Feed your dog 1 teaspoon of the dried herb daily per 20 lbs of your dog's body weight, stirring it into your dog’s food.
You can also make tea, using 1 teaspoon of dried leaf in 1 cup of boiling water. You can also use organic unsalted meat or vegetable broth instead of water to make a tastier drink for your dog. Steep it for 3 to 4 minutes, then strain, and let it cool before giving it to your dog.
Give 1/3 cup of tea per 20 lbs of body weight up to 3 times a day.
Caution: Only use dandelions from your yard if you don't spray pesticides or herbicides. Otherwise, you can buy fresh dandelion leaves, dried herbs, tinctures and teas at many health food stores.
3. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle (or silymarin) helps enhance liver funtion and decreases the damage of oxidative stress.
But milk thistle is best used if your dog has an existing liver disease or for acute exposure (after vaccination, drugs or other chemical exposure). Animal herbalists Greg Tilford and Mary Wulff explain:
“Despite much of the publicity that has been generated about this ‘wonder herb,’ milk thistle should not be used as a daily food supplement. Milk thistle is a medicine that is best reserved for situations in which the liver is already under abnormal stress.”
You can find milk thistle in most health food stores in capsules, tincture (liquid) or powder. If you're using a product made for dogs, follow the manufacturer's instructions on the jar; but if you buy a product made for humans, here's how much to give:
Tincture: 1 to 2 drops per 10 pounds of body weight, 2 to 4 times a day (split the dose up if you're giving it more than once a day)
Powder: 100mg per 10 pounds of body weight, 2 to 4 times a day (split the dose up if you're giving it more than once a day)
Don't give milk thistle to pregnant and lactating dogs and if your dog is taking medication, you might want to consult your holistic vet.
4. SAMe and NAC
S-adenosyl-L-methionine (or SAMe), is produced naturally in the body by amino acids and is a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that's known for its ability to detoxify the liver. It's also a great immune supporter.
Glutathione binds to toxins in the liver before they can cause any damage. In fact, it's used for accidental overdoses of Tylenol (acetaminophen) in hospitals. The patient would receive an amino acid called N-acetylcysteine (or NAC), which is a glutathione precursor, just like SAMe.
Both NAC and SAMe improve detoxification, support a normal inflammatory response and serve as an antioxidant. Here's how much to give for both NAC and SAMe:
Small dog ... 25 mg/day
Medium dog ... 50 mg/day
Large dog ... 100 mg/day
Giant dog ... 100-300 mg/day
The body naturally produces free radicals as a byproduct of metabolism, and from environmental factors like pollution. These are unstable atoms that can damage cellular health and cause cells to die. Free radicals build up in the body like rust and they are the cause of all disease ... including liver disease.
Antioxidants are molecules that can reduce the damage of oxidative stress.
One of the most effective antioxidants is called Superoxide Dismutase (or SOD). SOD uses a process called dismutation to deactivate a free radical called superoxide. This turns the free radical into hydrogen peroxide, which then breaks down into harmless oxygen and water.
SOD is said to be 6,000 times more potent than vitamin C. And the best bioavailable sources of SOD are green lipped mussels and astaxanthin.
Blueberries are also an excellent source of antioxidants. In fact, there’s more antioxidants in blueberries than any other fruit.
Feeding liver to your dog can help enhance liver function. If you can, buy organic liver from, grass fed, naturally raised animals.
But liver is rich, so if your dog is eating it for the first time, start slowly. A tablespoon is a good place to start with a medium sized dog. From there, you can gradually increase the amount of liver until it is 10% of his diet. If you don’t want to feed fresh liver, you can also find a glandular supplement. You can find products with a single organ or a blend of organs to boost your dog’s health even more.
In general, raw foods support the liver and help it cleanse. Feeding your dog a fresh, raw diet is always the best diet to give him a solid foundation for his overall wellbeing.
There are many foods you can add to your dog’s diet to support his liver:
- Lemon and apple cider vinegar: your dog may not like the taste of lemon but many will tolerate a few drops of apple cider vinegar added daily to their water.
- Greens, especially spring vegetables like spinach, broccoli rabe, celery or asparagus. Greens help support the detox mechanisms in the liver. Give them to your dog any way he likes them – chopped, pureed, steamed, mashed, or even with a little butter!
- Fermented foods like kefir or fermented vegetables.
With a little effort, you can protect your dog’s liver so it can continue protecting him. Try these foods and watch your dog glow with good health, inside and out!