Sunshine Pet Hospital

sick dog with high liver enzymes at veterinary clinic

What Are the Causes of High Liver Enzymes in Dogs?

What do high liver enzymes in dogs mean? Upon receiving your dog’s blood work results, your veterinarian informs you about high liver enzymes in dogs.

The revelation can be distressing and overwhelming, prompting concerns about the implications. High liver enzymes in dogs aren’t a standalone ailment but rather an indicator of an underlying issue affecting the liver.

Understanding the role of the liver is crucial in comprehending the significance of elevated enzymes.

The liver, a vital organ responsible for various metabolic functions, including detoxification and protein synthesis, can exhibit increased enzyme levels when impacted. This elevation isn’t synonymous with a specific disease but signifies an ongoing disturbance in the liver.

Liver enzymes, essential proteins produced by the liver, contribute to various metabolic functions in the body. These proteins are released into the bloodstream in limited quantities, pivotal in breaking down substances such as drugs, metabolites, and toxins. The commonly measured liver enzymes in canine blood tests include alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine transaminase (ALT), and aspartate transaminase (AST).

ALT and AST, both found in liver cells, show heightened blood levels when the liver undergoes damage or inflammation. AST is additionally present in skeletal muscle. Meanwhile, ALP, found in both the liver and bones, experiences increased blood levels indicative of liver damage or disease, along with potential bone growth triggered by certain medications like prednisone and phenobarbital.

It’s crucial to recognize that high liver enzymes in dogs don’t necessarily equate to a specific liver disease diagnosis. Instead, they signify an ongoing issue within the liver, necessitating further diagnostic exploration to identify the root cause. While not every instance of elevated liver enzymes points to liver disease, it clearly indicates that the liver is being affected, warranting additional tests for a comprehensive understanding of the underlying factors at play.


What Are Known Causes of High Liver Enzymes in Canines?

High liver enzymes in dogs may not necessarily cause immediate concern, particularly in healthy dogs. The degree of concern depends on the severity of the elevation. In cases of mild increases, a prudent course of action may involve a follow-up blood test to ascertain if the elevation has resolved.

It’s crucial to recognize that various factors can contribute to elevated liver test results in dogs, and not all instances point to a dire health condition.

Certain medications, notably steroids and antiseizure drugs like phenobarbital, are known culprits for causing an uptick in liver enzyme levels. Therefore, a detailed assessment of the dog’s medical history, including medication intake, becomes paramount in understanding the context of elevated liver biomarkers.

Cushing’s disease, characterized by an overproduction of endogenous steroids, is another known factor that can lead to an increase in alkaline phosphatase (ALP), one of the liver enzymes measured in tests for high liver enzymes in dogs.

This hormonal imbalance affects the liver, resulting in elevated biomarkers. Moreover, liver shunts, abnormal blood vessels bypassing the liver, and exposure to toxins like aflatoxin or xylitol are additional factors that can contribute to the elevation of liver biomarkers.

While the specter of canine liver cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma, looms as a potential cause for test results showing high liver enzymes in dogs, it’s essential to contextualize the rarity of this occurrence. Hepatocellular carcinoma is an uncommon form of canine liver cancer, affecting only about 1% of dogs.

Although it can result in elevated liver enzyme levels, it’s imperative to approach this possibility with a balanced perspective, considering its low prevalence.

In some instances, an elevated alanine transaminase (ALT) level in dogs may signal an issue with copper metabolism. This nuanced aspect highlights the importance of a comprehensive evaluation when interpreting liver biomarker results. It underscores the need for a holistic understanding of the dog’s health history, encompassing potential genetic predispositions and environmental factors that could contribute to the observed elevation.

Not all instances of high liver enzymes in dogs signify a grave health condition, and various factors, including medication use, hormonal imbalances, liver shunts, toxin exposure, and even genetic predispositions, can contribute to elevated liver enzyme levels. A thorough examination of the dog’s medical history and follow-up tests allows veterinarians to discern the underlying cause accurately. The rarity of canine liver cancer further emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive and balanced perspective when interpreting elevated liver test results.


Here’s Why Annual Checkups and Wellness Checkups are Important for Dogs

Discovering elevated liver test results in your beloved pet can undoubtedly be an unsettling experience for any pet owner.

The multitude of potential underlying causes adds a layer of complexity to the situation, prompting understandable concern. In these moments, it becomes paramount to trust your veterinarian’s expertise, who will guide you through the following steps tailored to your pet’s specific needs.

Navigating the extensive list of potential causes for elevated liver enzymes requires a thorough and patient approach.

Each case is unique, demanding careful consideration and a methodical examination of various factors, such as the pet’s medical history, current medications, and potential exposure to toxins. Armed with professional knowledge and experience, your veterinarian will diligently work to unravel the mystery behind the elevated liver biomarkers, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the situation.

Amidst the uncertainties, pet owners need to exercise patience during this diagnostic process. Recognizing that the investigation may take some time, remaining patient, and trusting the expertise of your veterinary team is critical. Veterinary professionals will conduct the necessary tests and assessments to pinpoint the specific cause, clarifying the best action for your pet’s well-being.

Moreover, scheduling and attending annual well-pet exams should not be overlooked. These routine checkups are a proactive measure in detecting potential health issues early on, including those related to liver function.

Early detection often translates to more effective interventions and an increased likelihood of successful recovery for your pet.

By staying proactive and maintaining a consistent schedule of veterinary care, you are actively contributing to your pet’s overall health and well-being, ensuring that potential concerns are identified and addressed promptly.


Call the Sunshine Pet Hospital at 630.340.3443 to inquire about a canine checkup related to high liver enzymes in dogs today.