Can Dog Food Cause Elevated Liver Enzymes?


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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Vet, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.


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Blood tests provide a great gauge of the overall internal health of your dog. If you’ve recently had some blood testing done and are curious about your dog’s high liver enzymes, you should familiarize yourself with what it means and what’s causing it. On occasion, elevated liver enzymes can be caused by your dog’s food, though things like hepatitis, heart failure, endocrine disorders, and even dental disease can also be the culprit.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about elevated liver enzyme levels in dogs.

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What Are Liver Enzymes?

There are several liver enzymes you may see in your dog’s blood work panel and your vet will discuss them with you.  It can be a lot of information to take in at once so here is a list of the more commonly tested enzymes.

Elevated aspartate transaminase (AST) may be due to the liver, but this enzyme can also be found in other areas of the body, such as the heart and red blood cells.

Elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels usually means hepatocellular injury, but this enzyme also comes from the intestines and kidneys.

Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) is not only found in the liver but also in the bones, kidneys, and the pregnant females’ placenta. The highest levels of ALP are in the bones and liver. It is not unusual to see elevated levels of ALP in young and growing dogs.

Gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT) is a useful enzyme in diagnosing liver and biliary diseases as it is more specific than other enzymes.

What Are High Liver Enzymes?

a border collie dog looking sick covered with blanket on couch
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When blood tests show that levels of AST and ALT are elevated, it means that cell damage has caused the enzymes to leak out of the liver cells. The causes of this damage are numerous and would then need to be investigated.

As mentioned above, it’s not unusual to see elevated levels of ALP in dogs under a year old. Dogs on steroid medications also have higher levels of ALP. Some breeds, like Siberian Huskies and Miniature Schnauzers, also are prone to having benign elevations in this enzyme. So, high levels of ALP are not a definitive sign of liver dysfunction.

GGT is a useful liver enzyme that can help confirm liver disease. It can increase five to 30 times the normal amount when there is a biliary obstruction of some kind. Increased levels of GGT and ALP can also indicate hepatobiliary disease.

It is important to note that the magnitude of the level needs to be interpreted by your vet and doesn’t always correspond well to the degree of illness shown or ability of the liver to function.

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Can My Dog’s Food Cause Elevated Liver Enzymes?

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Yes, the food your dog is eating can impact liver enzyme results but it is not a common cause of liver enzyme elevation.

Some blood results can be altered by fat in the blood sample, this is more likely if your dog has been fed before a blood sample. This is more likely to affect some biliary tract markers and hematology results. Your vet may request that your pet is starved prior to a blood sample to avoid this.

If your pet is obese due to overfeeding, this can increase the likely hood of fatty liver changes which can increase liver enzymes.

Inflammatory conditions can be affected by food and may have a knock-on effect on liver health.

Sometimes kibble has had to be recalled due to contamination with mycotoxins known as aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are a harmful substance produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus and can increase your dog’s risk of liver impairment.

These are some of the ways that food can affect liver enzymes but it is more usual that on discovering elevated levels a change in diet will be recommended to support the underlying dysfunction and not because the food caused it.

What Else Causes Elevated Liver Enzymes in Dogs?

It isn’t only your dog’s diet that can cause elevated liver enzymes.

Other causes include:

  • Heart failure
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Dental disease
  • Certain medications
  • Hormonal diseases
  • Bone growth in young pups
  • Tumors
  • Toxins
  • Nodular hyperplasia
  • Endocrine disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease

As you can see, liver enzymes can become elevated from a wide range of causes and aren’t always indicative of a serious liver condition. This is why your veterinarian is the one who should interpret the results for you.  Many factors need to be taken into consideration.

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Is It Bad to Have Elevated Liver Enzymes?

Husky dog lying on vet table with doctor and owner near by
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Having raised liver enzymes isn’t a specific diagnosis. Your dog’s liver enzymes won’t tell your vet what exactly is causing the elevation. Your vet can use your dog’s blood work to screen for problems with the liver so they can find the underlying cause of the elevation. Raised liver enzymes do not necessarily tell how well the liver is functioning and a more specific function test may be suggested called a bile acid stimulation test.

Sometimes elevated enzymes occur because your dog has a hepatobiliary disease affecting its liver, gallbladder, or bile ducts. But raised levels can also occur due to extrahepatic disease occurring outside the liver.

Your vet will use your dog’s elevated liver enzyme blood work results as a jumping-off point to find the true cause of its high enzyme levels.

What Can I Feed My Dog with Elevated Liver Enzymes?

This is a conversation you should have with your dog’s veterinarian. Your vet can help you choose the best diet based on the complexity and type of liver dysfunction your dog is dealing with. Most commonly recommended will be a lower protein diet that’s naturally lower in copper and higher in digestibility.

Managing liver disease with nutrition can control the clinical signs but often won’t target the underlying cause of the disease. The goal is to maintain normal metabolic functioning, support both the regeneration and repair of the liver, and decrease further liver damage.

What Are the Symptoms of Liver Problems in Dogs?

sick dog
Image Credit: ykaiavu, Pixabay

While your dog’s blood work should give you a general idea of his liver health, you should know some of the signs of canine liver disease.

The early symptoms tend to be nonspecific, like vomiting, weight loss, and loss of appetite. It’s very easy to miss these early warning signs as they’re so similar to other health conditions.

Once your dog’s liver condition progresses, you may see symptoms like:

  • Confusion
  • Increased thirst
  • Unstable gait
  • Increased urination
  • Jaundice
  • Weakness
  • Bloody urine
  • Bloody feces
  • Seizures
  • Ascites

Undiagnosed liver disease can lead to a life-threatening degenerative brain condition known as hepatic encephalopathy. This condition occurs when your dog’s liver is unable to properly filter ammonia which will eventually build up and affect its central nervous system.

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Final Thoughts

The health of your dog’s liver is very important so being aware of the physical symptoms of liver issues is essential. You can do your part in promoting optimal liver health by providing good quality nutrition and avoiding obesity. Remember, though, you cannot usually control liver conditions through diet alone. You need to speak with your vet to determine the best course of action for your dog’s specific condition and the complexity of its condition.


Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock



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