Pet Corner

Keep Your Pet’s Liver Healthy

| May/June 2005

  • Milk thistle is a powerful herb for liver problems.
    Christopher Hobbs

I get more calls from Western-trained veterinarians asking about alternative treatments for liver conditions than for any other problem. But whether traditional or alternative veterinary medicine is used, we have no magic bullet for liver malfunction: As is the case for humans, the best approach is prevention through a healthy lifestyle.

Nutrition, exercise and elimination of toxins and stress are key. And herbs can play a crucial role in prevention and treatment, working to support your pet’s largest and, I would argue, most important organ system.

Your animal companion’s liver performs hundreds of functions, including filtering and detoxifying chemical and bacterial impurities in the blood. It also processes most food, converting nutrients and synthesizing proteins; manufactures bile, which helps digest fat; and prepares toxic material and waste products for elimination. Finally, the liver is a huge storage bin for several nutrients such as glycogen (a sugar source for quick energy), vitamins and iron.

When Something Goes Wrong

Liver problems can be caused by many conditions — environmental toxins, stress, genetics, infections, ingestion or absorption of poisons — but often it’s hard to identify the culprit.

Many symptoms characterize liver dysfunction. A well-known indicator is jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). Your veterinarian can analyze liver function by testing for liver enzymes in the blood, but many liver problems have become quite advanced by the time jaundice appears or liver enzymes in the blood are abnormal.

Earlier indicators to watch for include persistent gastrointestinal imbalances (diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, bloating, bad breath, excess gas and abnormal stools); lethargy; anxiety; itchy, watery, swollen or red eyes; itchy or draining ears; and skin problems — especially psoriasis, but also rashes, dry and peeling skin, and slow-healing wounds. Liver abnormalities also can make arthritis pain worse.

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