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Enlarged Liver in Dogs

Hepatomegaly in Dogs

Hepatomegaly in dogs refers to an abnormal enlargement of the liver. This condition typically arises from various diseases and conditions that directly or indirectly impact liver function, causing the organ to swell and assume a diseased state.

Symptoms and Types

In puppies, the liver size in proportion to their body mass is typically larger compared to adult dogs. Nonetheless, hepatomegaly is frequently diagnosed in older dogs. The extent of enlargement can vary depending on the underlying cause, involving either the entire liver or specific portions. Infections or inflammation may result in a widespread, symmetrical enlargement, while tumors, hemorrhages, cysts, or liver lobe rotation may cause asymmetrical or focal enlargement, affecting only certain parts of the liver.

Symptoms may differ based on the underlying cause. Abdominal enlargement is a commonly observed symptom. During examination, veterinarians may detect an enlarged liver or a palpable mass in the abdominal region. Typically, the mass is found behind the rib cage and might even be visible to the naked eye. However, in obese dogs, identifying an enlarged liver during physical examination can be challenging.

Causes

The causes of hepatomegaly in dogs include:

  • Increased blood pooling near the liver
  • Hepatitis (infection of the liver)
  • Chronic liver diseases like cirrhosis
  • Obstruction in the blood flow passing through the liver
  • Heart diseases and failure
  • Liver tumors
  • Heartworm disease
  • Rotation of the liver lobe around its axis
  • Diaphragmatic hernia (hernia resulting from the protrusion of part of the stomach through the diaphragm)
  • Abnormal deposition of metabolic products within the liver tissue
  • Accumulation of fat in the liver tissue
  • Pancreatic tumors affecting the liver
  • Liver abscess
  • Liver cysts
  • Drug toxicity

Diagnosis

To diagnose hepatomegaly in your dog, provide your veterinarian with a detailed history of your pet’s health, including the onset and nature of symptoms, as well as any possible incidents that may have contributed to the condition. Your veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive physical examination to assess all body systems, and a complete blood profile will be performed, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. The results of routine laboratory tests can vary greatly depending on the underlying cause of liver enlargement.

The complete blood count may reveal various abnormalities such as anemia, abnormal red blood cell shapes (spherocytes), fragmented red blood cells (schistocytes), red blood cells with spots caused by hemoglobin accumulation (Heinz bodies), the presence of parasites within red blood cells, immature white blood cells (blast cells), red blood cells with a nucleus, and abnormal platelet counts (tiny cells involved in blood clotting). The biochemistry profile may show elevated levels of liver enzymes and high cholesterol levels. Additional testing may include a blood clotting profile, as abnormalities in blood clotting are common in patients with liver involvement. Your dog may also be tested for the presence of heartworm disease.

Abdominal X-rays may reveal an enlarged liver with rounded margins or a displaced stomach and kidneys. Chest X-rays can help identify any tumor metastasis to the chest cavity and detect diseases affecting the heart and lungs. Abdominal ultrasonography provides further insight into the abdominal cavity, showing changes in liver size and surface contour, as well as any concurrent diseases. It also helps distinguish between diffuse or localized liver enlargement. More advanced diagnostic tests, such as electrocardiography and echocardiography, assess the structure and function of the heart.

If tumors are suspected, your veterinarian may take a liver tissue sample to confirm whether it is benign or malignant. Even without a tumor present, a tissue sample can help determine the cause, severity, and stage of liver disease. These samples will be sent to the laboratory for microbial cultures. In the case of infection, culturing the sample helps identify the type of microorganism involved so that appropriate medications can be prescribed.

Treatment

Treatment approaches vary significantly and hinge on the underlying cause of hepatomegaly. If heart involvement or advanced liver disease is present, your dog might require hospitalization for intensive treatment and supportive care. The primary goal of treatment is to address the root cause and prevent further complications. Dogs with infections typically receive broad-spectrum antibiotics. Dehydration is common in these cases, necessitating intravenous fluids to restore fluid levels to normal. Multivitamins may also be administered to maintain healthy vitamin levels. In instances of tumors, abscesses, or cysts, surgical interventions may be necessary to remove these growths.

Living and Management

Patients with heart failure or abdominal fluid retention require adjustments in their diet and fluid intake. These patients necessitate special care, often requiring complete cage rest. Special dietary considerations, such as increased protein levels, salt restriction, and adequate vitamin supplementation, will be implemented for your dog.

The prognosis varies and relies on the underlying cause and duration of the disease. Some causes are less severe, while others pose life-threatening risks. Since the liver plays a central role in drug metabolism, it’s crucial not to administer any medication or alter the dosage of prescribed drugs without consulting your veterinarian beforehand. To prevent negative energy balance, your dog should be fed small, frequent meals. Your dog will need regular evaluations during therapy, including laboratory tests and radiography as needed, to monitor progress.

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