When to Euthanize a Dog with Liver Failure: What is the Right Time?

when to euthanize a dog with liver failure

It is so hard to let go of our dogs and knowing when the right time is. Deciding when the right time to opt for euthanasia is, will be one of your toughest ever decisions. There are several canine diseases which will end up progressing to the point where we have to make a choice, and liver failure is one of those.

Canine liver failure is a serious disease which has a huge effect on the quality of life of your dog. In fact, it’s the fifth leading cause of death in dogs according to multiple websites I read whilst researching this guide.

Today I wanted to share with you my personal view plus comments from vets I spoke to regarding when the it is time to put down a dog with liver disease. I hope this helps you a little bit during this tough time.

The decision on when to euthanize a dog with liver failure should not be taken lightly, but the bottom line is quality of life for your dog – that should be the over-arching consideration. Here’s the short opinion, followed by more detail…

When to put a dog down with liver failure?

So, when should you euthanize your dog with liver failure? This is not only a tough question to ask but also a tough question to answer. As the disease progresses. Your dog’s quality of life will deteriorate.

Once their quality of life has deteriorated to the extent where they are in pain and cannot function, you should consider euthanasia. By functions I mean being able to stand up, walk, urinate, and do all the things a dog should be able to do independently.

Even then, it’s a troublesome question to answer; deciding to let go of a dog we love is never going to be easy so also seek advice from vets, family and friends.

With canine liver disease, this decision is so much harder, because your dog could have good days, but also bad days. You know your dog best, so keep a close eye on them and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your dog still have the ability to stand up lying down?
  • Can your dog eat and go to the toilet without pain?
  • Can your dog walk around?

If not, then they are surely suffering too much, and it really should be the right time to put down your dog with liver failure.

But you also need to be ready too.

Even so, it’s not fair to prolong your dog’s suffering just because you are not ready to let go yet.

The bottom line is this; it’s all about quality of life. If your dog’s quality of life has deteriorated so much that there’s no quality left, it is the right time for euthanasia.

How long will my dog live with liver failure?

Liver failure in dogs normally progress from the early stages, through the middle stages, to end-stage liver failure.The end stage being the point where the only outcome is a fatal one.

According to the Emergency Vet USA website, sometimes liver failure can develop slowly over time and other times it can progress quicker. So, it’s important not to ignore any signs of liver failure in your dog as this could impact on when the dog needs to be put down.

In the early stages of liver failure, we see abnormal inflammation. An underlying cause causes this ongoing inflammation in the liver. During these stages, your dog’s liver can still function, albeit in a limited capacity. Your dog may be more tired than usual, and their appetite will change. They may also be nauseous and vomit.

If your vet diagnoses liver failure early enough, the disease can be slowed down with special supplements and food.

During the middle stages, you may notice more obvious things wrong with your dog. Something you may notice is jaundice. This is a yellow coloration of the skin and gums and a yellow tinge to the white of their eyes.

When the liver stops working, it stops making albumin, a protein that helps to keep fluid in your dog’s blood vessels and organs. With no albumin present, this fluid will leak into the spaces surrounding their organs and abdomen. This fluid collection in the abdomen is a sure sign of possible liver failure.

In end-stage liver failure, your dog may show significant neurological problems, which include depression and change in mentality. Other neurological problems can include symptoms such as blindness, dizziness, seizures, disorientation, pacing and wandering (for example, leaning into a wall).

This happens because the liver can no longer clear the body of toxins and metabolize proteins. This causes a build-up of toxins in your dog’s body and is called hepatic encephalopathy.

How to help a dog with liver failure

Sadly, when your dog’s liver has progressed to the end stage liver failure, there’s nothing more anyone can do. The only thing to do is to treat the symptoms and pain. This treatment may include anti-nausea medications, anti-diarrheal medications, and pain medications. When there is an underlying cause to the liver failure, vets can also treat that.

Vets can also recommend food and supplements to help aid your dog’s quality of life when suffering with liver disease and liver failure. These foods are easy to digest and help prevent the occurrence of neurological symptoms in your dog. Oxidative damage is a side effect of the inflammation that causes stress on your dog’s liver.

There are also special supplements available to reduce this damage to your dog’s liver cells.

If the liver disease is caught early, some dogs can live for many months to a few years. If it has progressed too far, the prognosis will get a lot worse, and your dog may only have a few weeks to months of decent quality of life left.

That being said, how long your dog lives and the quality of their life will depend on many factors such as diet, lifestyle, therapy, and your individual dog’s ability to fight. Thus, although there’s not much you can do to heal liver failure, you can take steps to improve your dog’s quality of life and support them.


What is canine liver failure?

Your dog’s liver is an important organ that performs various functions in their body. It has a large capacity and is capable of self-healing. The ability to heal itself provides some protection against disease and permanent damage.

As stated, the liver has many important functions in the body. It assists with the digestion and conversion of nutrients and the storage of vitamins and minerals. It also plays an important part in metabolizing and storing various toxic compounds. The liver thus helps detoxify the body.

Ironically, it’s this function that can also be its downfall… and why so many per owners need to decide when to euthanise their dog with liver failure.

Because of its role in detoxifying the body, it is susceptible to injury and damage. The chronic exposure to toxins may cause liver damage. It usually occurs where over 75% (read source) of the liver has been damaged.

Aside from being caused by exposure to toxins, chronic inflammation, cancer, blood vessel abnormalities and immune disease can also cause liver disease.

What are the symptoms of a dog dying from liver failure?

Because the liver plays an important part in clearing toxins from the body, its failure wreaks havoc on your dogs health. It causes not only physical symptoms, but mental problems too. You’ll often notice that dogs suffering from liver failure develop depression, lethargy and strange behaviour.

Other signs that your dog may have liver failure can vary. These can include:

  • Blood clotting problems.
  • Changes in liver size.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Excessive urination and thirst.
  • Fever.
  • Fluid collection in the abdomen.
  • Jaundice (yellowing)
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Neurological problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weight loss.

The signs of liver failure can be difficult to see, because they can be very similar to other conditions. It is important that you contact your vet if you see any of these signs.


Liver failure occurs when the liver has been damaged so much that it cannot work. Because of the liver’s function in clearing toxins from the body, its failure has chaotic effects on the health of your dog.

Whilst some diseases progress fast and other slower which can be managed to offer a decent quality of life, liver failure is one of those can happen very quickly.

Because of this, owners will often have to make quick decisions on when to put a dog down down with liver failure… but should always do in consultation with their own vet.

Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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