Liver diseases in pets: The role of feeding
The liver is the body’s largest internal organ, has countless different tasks in the animal organism and is one of the most important metabolic organs. However, many owners don’t know how to support their pet’s liver with the right food and prevent liver diseases.
It is well known that detoxification is one of the most important functions of the liver. It absorbs toxins from medicines or vaccinations, as well as from the intestine or the environment, converts them into non-toxic substances and ensures that they can be excreted by the kidneys. The liver also converts nutrients from food into substances that the body can use, stores in particular fat-soluble vitamins, trace elements and iron and releases these substances to the cells when required.
Furthermore, the organ is responsible for keeping the body temperature constant and maintaining the blood sugar level and plays an important role in the formation, breakdown and conversion, i.e. in the metabolism, of fats, proteins and sugars. If liver disease is suspected, the following symptoms or side effects may occur:
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or nausea
- Fluid retention in the abdominal area
- Strong-smelling, voluminous, light-coloured faeces
- Blood clotting problems
- Muscle twitching and cramps
The animal’s liver initially responds by increasing the activity of the liver enzymes. If this is not detected it can lead to cirrhosis, which destroys the liver cells. Liver diseases should always be taken seriously and clarified by vets so that they can be treated as quickly as possible.
Types of liver disease
The causes and manifestations of liver diseases are diverse. You can distinguish between acute symptoms and chronic disease progression, and there is also the following classification:
Diseases that damage the liver can also affect the gall bladder. These are often signs of congestion, inflammation, or congenital cystic anomalies.
Prevent liver disease: Food that is gentle on the digestion
After consultation with a vet, the regeneration of liver cells can also be supported by diet. An individually tailored feeding plan with a reduced protein content and an increased vegetable and fruit content is ideal. Pet owners should reduce the amount of red meat and offal they feed and at the same time rely on high-quality, easily digestible foods. Foods rich in connective tissue should be avoided. You should also ensure that the animal is not exposed to any unnecessary stress, that it drinks enough liquid and that its blood values are checked regularly by the vet. This is the only way pet owners can improve the general health of their pet.
The aim of such a diet is to avoid unnecessary stress on the digestive system. This means the formation of toxins and gases from undigested proteins that migrate to the large intestine and are transported to the liver via the blood. Protein digestion should be complete at the end of the small intestine.
Examples of high-quality and easily digestible proteins:
- Fish (low fat)
- White meats
- Low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt
If pet owners opt for raw feeding, they should rely on carbohydrates (millet, quinoa, couscous, rice) instead of fish and fats as energy suppliers. There are also some herbs, dietary supplements, vegetables or fruits that can support the liver in its tasks. If an animal is given medication, pet owners must consult a vet about any supplements.
Some useful and supportive supplements for liver disease:
- Milk thistle: supporting and regenerating function
- Dandelion: stimulating and detoxifying function
- Greater burdock: detoxifying and supportive function, stimulates liver and kidney activity
- All B vitamins (in complex form): Vitamin B12 in particular plays an important role because it is stored in the liver and is vital for blood cell production.
- Vitamin C and E: support the cell function of the liver, antioxidants
- Coenzyme Q10: Energizing, supporting and positive properties for the immune system
- Fermentable carbohydrates: Lactulose or pectin lower the pH value in the large intestine and counteract the formation of ammonia in the intestine (harmful ammonia is converted into harmless ammonium, so it does not penetrate the intestinal mucosa and is excreted with the faeces)
- Omega 3 fatty acids: from fish oil if there is no problem digesting fish oils, otherwise krill oil)
Please note: In animals with liver disease, it is also advisable to feed several small meals a day instead of a single large portion, in order to promote nutrient absorption and protect the liver.