We got Charlie as a tiny pup, we adored him and did plenty of training with him from day one. He suffered his fair share of gastro problems and urinary problems. He was always lean and very small for a collie cross, he had poor muscle development from puppyhood and was neutered later because of this, it took him a bit longer to recover from his neuter than our foster dogs and he couldn’t tolerate certain medications. I often felt there was something wrong with him, a gut feeling but nothing really warranted further investigation, until this time last year at age two. His behaviour started to change; I knew it wasn’t due to lack of socialisation or from a bad experience. He didn’t want to play anymore with dogs and was apprehensive around people. He slept a lot and liked to spend time on his own.
We booked him for a full panel of bloods with our vet and this is where it all began. The symptoms of liver disease are often vague and subtle at the early stages especially. He’s initial bloods showed up some liver dysfunction that needed further investigation. He had bile acid testing done several times and it was confirmed there was most certainly some problems in this area. Over the months that followed he had lots of test run and was referred to UCD. In August he was diagnosed with a Congenital Liver Disease called Hepatic Microvascular Dysplasia. At first, I thought this was a death sentence for him, but we learnt lots and now he has a happy and almost normal life through medical and dietary management.
What is HMD/MVD:
The liver is responsible for lots of functions in dogs including filtering toxins, waste removal and bile production to aid digestion. The blood is carried to the liver via the portal vein which branches out into smaller and smaller vessels to be detoxified. Microvascular Dysplasia is diagnosed when these microscopic vessels are abnormal and blood is going back into circulation without being detoxified and cleaned.
They are rarely consistent and there is range of symptoms from very mild to severe and not all dogs while suffer the same ones. This condition doesn’t usually present until the dog is around age three unlike a portosystemic shunt which symptoms usually come to light when the dog is much younger and usually under one, some of the symptoms include anorexia, lethargy, salivating, vomiting, diarrhoea, hepatic encephalopathy which is an impairment of the mental state due to liver dysfunction often seen as aggression, pacing, circling, pressing head, apparent blindness and even seizures and a zombie like state. Charlie’s most obviously symptoms where lethargy and staring with occasional vomiting and diarrhoea, lack of appetite, head pressing and becoming more aggressive with other dogs. Since Charlie was only aged two his symptoms where mild but I would spend a lot of time with him and quickly notice small changes in his personality.
Charlie had the following tests: Basic Panel of Bloods, Bile Acid Testing, Ultra Sounds, Liver Biopsy, Blood Ammonia Testing , Vitamin B12 tests & Zinc Level Test. It took several months to get conclusive diagnoses as many other things had to be ruled out, mainly a Portosystemic Shunt which is another form of Liver Disease.
How do we medically Manage Charlie:
The hardest thing to get our heads around was that Charlie can have no meat or fish protein and plenty of other foods are off the menu too! This is essential to his care this would result in further toxin build up and damage to his organs. He gets prescription food from the Vet made especially for dogs with Liver Disease. He can also have small amounts of cottage cheese, egg whites, goats yogurt so we have become a dab hand at making him special cakes for his training as hotdogs and cheese (which were his all time favourites) are off the menu forever!
The amount of protein he eats per day has to be measured to ensure his symptoms are kept under control. He also needs to eat numerous small meals per day to ease the work load on his liver.
He also takes several medications and supplements which include:
1. Lactulose X 3 times per day – binds ammonia in his bowel and ensure he poops frequently throughout the day
2. Long term antibiotics X 2 times per day – to decrease bacteria in his blood
3. VSL-3 – Probiotics (because he is on longterm antibiotics and this is the most suitable since it contains no manganese which dogs with liver disease don’t tolerate well)
4. Zentonil (Sam-E) – prevents more liver damage
5. Heptosupport – supports normal liver function with Milk Thistle and vitamins
6. Zinc & Vitamin E – Dogs with liver disease are often lacking in these
It sounds like a lot and at first it was difficult to get the hang of it all, but now it’s like second nature to us. Charlie is a happy dog again who enjoys long walks on the beach and doing agility training. It most certainly hasn’t been a death sentence and we are very lucky to have our beautiful dog doing very well thanks to a little bit of effort and our amazing vet who always goes to great lengths to help and support Charlie.