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Older dog liver problems.

Species: Dog
Breed: Maltese
Age: 11-15 years
We gave a 13 year old Maltese. He has had liver shunts and since he was 3 months we have given him antibotics. Up and until about 6 months ago he has been active. Within the last 6 months he has significantly changed. He seems confused at time and will just stand in a room and not move after we have left the room. We have to go back so he can see us and follow us. Sometimes if we clap loudly he will come to the sound. He is very inactive during the day and sometimes in the evening he will be a little more active. He eats very well. He sleeps quite a bit. He use to bark if anyone came around but he no longer barks but does make noises when we come back in the hous. At times he licks under his belly where his liver may be? Is this a sign he is suffering or a natural aging. Is there anything we should be doing?


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Sorry to hear that Duffy is not feeling 100%

It's hard to know whether these symptoms are related to the liver shunt or not.

Some of the symptoms that you described can be connected to liver problems. When a dog has a liver problem, it can cause a build up of ammonia in the body. This can affect the brain and cause a dog to sit and stare or act confused.

However, the same symptoms can be a sign of something called cognitive dysfunction. Cognitive dysfunction is very similar to what we would call senility in people. Again, dogs can act confused and stare into space.

The lack of barking could be due to hearing loss which is really common as a dog gets older.

Going back to liver disease, if there is liver disease present, it usually does not cause abdominal pain. I don't think that the licking is connected to a liver problem.

It would be wonderful if you could have some blood tests done on Duffy. This really should tell us if there is a significant liver problem. If there is a liver problem, it's possible that it is not even related to the shunt. Realistically if he has gone 13 years without having ill effects from his shunt then I would be surprised if it was causing him problems now. With that being said, if there is a liver problem then there are other things that could possibly be done to help him to feel better. If your vet feels that the symptoms of confusion are related to high ammonia levels then they may prescribe a medication called lactulose which could really help. Or, they might put Duffy on a supplement called SAM-e which can help to support the liver.

If the blood tests are normal, then this may be cognitive disorder. Although we don't have a cure for this, many dogs do well either on a medication called Anipryl or with a food called Hill's b/d.

The question that is probably in your mind right now is whether or not he is suffering and whether or not we should be thinking of euthanasia. Here are some criteria that may help you make that decision:

-How is his appetite? Sick and painful dogs do not want to eat. If he is eating well, then this is a good sign.
-Do you feel like he enjoys life more often than not? It's not enough to just have a short spurt of energy once a day. Do you feel like he's enjoying his life most of the time, or just trying to survive?
-Are you enjoying having him? This is a valid question. If a pet has become a burden because of health issues, then it may be time to start thinking of euthanasia.

I hope this information has helped. I can't stress enough how helpful a visit to the vet with some blood tests would be.

I hope Duffy does ok!

Dr. Marie.


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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. AskAVetQuestion.com and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.