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Pet Euthanasia

When To Euthanize a Dog With End-Stage Liver Failure

End-stage liver failure causes grueling symptoms that might impact the pet’s quality of life. Learn when is the right time to euthanize a dog with liver failure here.

Dr. Karen Whala

September 26, 2023

When a dog goes through liver failure, it can be a roller coaster of emotions for many pet owners. Watching your furry friend’s health decline can be painful, especially when you see them suffering.

So, how do you know it’s the right time to euthanize a dog with end-stage liver failure? It can be hard to even think about it. 

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of chronic progressive liver failure in dogs and offer some guidelines to help you decide when to euthanize a dog with liver failure.

The Progression of Chronic Liver Disease in Dogs

Whether it comes on gradually or all at once, canine liver failure can be devastating for dogs and their pet parents.

As in humans, the liver plays a critical role in the health of the body. It helps convert food into nutrients, maintain blood clotting, manage immunity, synthesize proteins, carry out waste, and break down toxins in the blood. When a dog experiences extensive liver damage — as with chronic liver disease — it may unfold in several stages.

In early-stage liver disease, the liver becomes inflamed and dogs can show mild signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, and vomiting. In the second stage, toxins build up in the blood, causing jaundice. Abdominal distension may also be present. At its final stage, liver failure causes a build-up of toxins in the blood that affects the brain, producing neurological issues like loss of vision, disorientation, and seizures.

Each dog’s experience with liver failure is different. Depending on the cause, where they are within the disease process, and how well they respond to treatment options, a dog may live for a few days or for years.

Related content: What to expect from pet euthanasia?

Progression of Chronic Liver Disease in Dogs

Deciding the Right Time for Euthanasia

Early and middle-stage liver disease in dogs can be managed with the right treatments, and your dog may still enjoy a good quality of life. When the disease has progressed to the third stage, and your dog’s symptoms are no longer manageable, your veterinarian will likely suggest relieving suffering with euthanasia.

Knowing when it’s the right time to say goodbye is hard. This can be further complicated when the disease has been progressing for some time and changes in quality of life are gradual. None of us want to feel like we’ve said goodbye to a beloved pet too early, nor that we have waited too long. This tension can often feel like a tightrope walk.

Here are a few guidelines to help you at this difficult time.

Know the Common Signs

Once it sets in, early signs of liver failure can include prolonged vomiting and diarrhea. Later on, however, symptoms might include:

  • Yellowing of the eyes, skin, and gums
  • Severe fatigue or loss of movement
  • Pronounced diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Seizures
  • Confusion and disorientation

Consult Your Veterinarian

Whether your veterinarian has been supporting you and your dog through this disease for a long time or a diagnosis has just been made, they will be an invaluable resource for helping you understand your dog’s condition. Your vet can talk you through treatment options, methods of supportive care, what to expect throughout the disease as well as the prognosis.

Assess Your Dog's Quality of Life

Once you know that your dog is entering the late stages, the most important thing is their quality of life. If your dog’s pain and discomfort can no longer be managed, it is often a kinder choice to let them go peacefully.

It’s easy to lose sight of changes in quality of life when taking care of a dog with a chronic disease. One tool that can help you is our quality of life assessment, which objectively measures your pet’s quality of life. The questionnaire enables you to assess your pet's overall comfort and happiness. It includes questions about your dog’s eating and drinking habits, signs of pain, and participation in daily activities.

A Gift of Love at Home

Dogs enrich our lives in ways we can’t repay. However, when liver disease progresses to the point where suffering can no longer be alleviated, euthanasia is not only warranted but the kindest choice.

We’re here to help if you decide that is the best option for your pet. Contact us if you need time to talk through your decision, or schedule an in-home appointment with a vet when you're ready.

Note: The information provided in this post is intended for educational purposes and doesn’t constitute medical advice. Always follow your vet’s advice regarding chronic progressive liver failure and your pet's health.

Dr. Karen Whala

Fresno, CA

About

Dr. Karen Whala has always had a soft spot for the older pets she’s treated in practice and saw a need for these beloved pets to pass peacefully at home rather than in a clinic setting. To that end, she started Peaceful Passing in 2018 to help families assist their terminally ill, injured, or suffering pets as they transitioned from life in the Fresno and Clovis areas. She finds that pets are so much more relaxed and peaceful when they pass at home, and it is truly a gift owners give their furry friends. Dr. Whala grew up in the Eastern foothills of Fresno County in the small towns of Dunlap and Miramonte. She obtained her Bachelors of Science degree in Animal Science and Management at UC Davis. During her youth, she operated a children’s petting zoo and traveled to schools, birthday parties, and library functions educating children on animal care. Her animals included everything from iguanas and ducklings to lambs and frogs, and it was during these formative pet-owning years that she decided to become a veterinarian. In 2006, Dr. Whala graduated with her veterinary degree from UC Davis. She began practicing at a local area mixed animal practice and worked with dairy cattle, horses, dogs, and cats and later transitioned to small animals exclusively. She took a few years break from private practice, during which she earned a Masters in Public Health and Board Certification in Veterinary Preventive Medicine. When Dr. Whala returned to private practice, it was to start Peaceful Passing. Dr. Whala lives in Fresno and keeps busy working at a local clinic part-time, helping families assist in the peaceful passing of their pets, volunteering with Pathfinders (a boys and girls club), backpacking, and hosting friends in her home. ‍ Read More