You get up in the morning and your dog seems a bit sluggish. You put his breakfast out and he walks away without even a sniff. Later that day his food is still untouched, and he just isn't "right." No question, something is wrong. A trip to the vet and a standard blood test later you learn that your furry friend's liver enzymes are elevated. You follow your vet’s recommended course of treatment and within a few days your pet is back to his old self.

But what about when you take your furball in for his regular wellness check and blood test results indicate elevated liver enzymes? Should you be alarmed? Yes, any abnormal liver level is reason for concern. The liver removes toxins and other hazardous things from the bloodstream, and can be damaged in the normal course of doing its job. But it doesn’t always equate to liver disease. 

Here’s a brief explanation of the common substances associated with the liver:

ALP (alkaline phosphatase)
  • is an enzyme produced in several places in the body
  • its elevation can indicate a problem other than the liver
AST (aspartate transaminase)
  • is an enzyme found in the liver as well as skeletal and cardiac muscles
  • its elevation can indicate muscle damage and/or a liver problem
ALT (alanine transaminase)
  • is an enzyme found only in the liver
  • a rise in this level is usually caused by a liver ailment
  • is a pigment released by dying red blood cells
  • the liver treats bilirubin as a waste product and routinely clears it out
  • elevated bilirubin can be the result of rapid die-off of red blood cells
  • is a blood protein
  • low level can be caused by:
  • liver failure
  • kidney disease
  • inadequate nutrition due to malabsorption of nutrients, intestinal disease, and/or poor diet
Some causes of liver ailments include:
  • autoimmune problems
  • heavy metal accumulation
  • environmental and food-borne toxins
  • parasites
  • infectious diseases
  • dental disease
  • hepatitis
  • heart disease
What you should do for your dog or cat’s health:
  • First and foremost, discuss the implications of blood test results and treatment protocol with your vet.
  • Keep records of blood test results for future comparison. Make note if the results are based on the same testing method. The “normal” range can vary with the type of test.
  • Strengthen overall health by feeding a high quality, species appropriate, balanced diet such as Primal, Stella & Chewy’s, Rad Cat, Northwest Naturals, Orijen, Acana, etc.
  • Balanced nutrition comes from a variety of food, so rotate formulas, unless food sensitivities are an issue.
  • Include probiotics and enzymes such as Animal Essentials or Additional Answers raw goat’s milk to your dog’s diet.
  • Limit your dog’s exposure to toxins:
  • Consider antibody titer testing instead of annual shots.
  • Unless your dog is extremely sensitive to flea bites or is suffering an infestation consider using safer flea control such as Dr Ben’s Cedar Oil (dogs only) or food-grade diatomaceous earth from Earthworks
  • Read all cautionary statements on product labels before using them — learn the risks before using a product.
  • In most cases there are simple alternatives to dangerous herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and household cleaning products. Check out some of the many options at Eartheasy.
  • Visit Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smarter Living: Pets website for more information on making healthier choices regarding pest control.

Even if your dog is otherwise healthy you may want to include supplements such as milk thistle or a pet-specific version of SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) to support normal liver function. Both substances help to increase glutathione, an important compound needed for liver health. Consider using a detoxifying herbal extract blend from Animals Apawthacary. Their Detox Blend, Milk Thistle, or Dandelion/Milk Thistle products are all available in an easy to administer liquid.

As always, discuss with your vet any questions or concerns you may have regarding the implications of elevated liver levels, ways to reduce your pet’s toxic load, additional supplements, or the proper dosage of current supplements. For chronic or recurring liver ailments consider consulting with an holistic vet for a more integrative approach to long term health.