2 Liver dysfunction

With liver dysfunction, problems can arise with energy levels and energy reserves, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, protein levels, coagulation, toxins, and drug effects.

The liver does have a very large functional reserve. It can still function normally with only 25% of “good” liver remaining. The liver can actually regrow itself (this works well for liver transplants).

Energy levels

Since the liver controls our metabolism, with liver dysfunction we can run out of energy. Clinical signs include weakness, fatigue and seizures.

Nutrient storage

Liver disease can lead to issues with nutrient storage. Symptoms may develop due to low levels of copper, iron and vitamins. Scurvy (deficiencies in vitamin C) can occur with liver disease.

Bile Production and Loss

With liver disease, the feces may be pale (not bile colored), fatty and smelly due to limited fat digestion. Weight loss usually accompanies liver disease due to lack of fat absorption.

Enterohepatic recirculation may be limited with bile salts collecting elsewhere in the body and/or not being available for reuse.

Protein Production

Less liver function means fewer proteins produced. This can impact oncotic pressure, coagulation, and other functions where proteins are required.

Edema occurs due to the lowered oncotic pressure. Hemorrhaging and bruising are evident with limited coagulation proteins.

Hyperlipidemia (high lipid levels in blood) may be observed. The lipids also accumulate in the liver causing more damage.


Many agents are not being detoxified. The urea cycle and ammonia metabolism are disrupted. These compounds and others (amino acids) can act as neurotransmitters, leading to neurological signs related to liver dysfunction.

Drug metabolism

Products aren’t excreted normally, leading to build up in organs and the blood. Drugs may be less active or have more side effects.



Function Dysfunction
Store energy & maintain blood glucose Weak, fatigued (no energy), seizures
Store vitamins B12 & C (& ADEK) Skin, bone, urinary, gut, lungs, teeth, & gum disorders, anemia
Produce bile Steatorrhea, Vitamin ADEK deficiencies
Produce clotting proteins Bleeding disorders
Produce albumin Edema, ascites due to low protein
Produce immune factors Frequent infections
Filter and detoxify blood Neurologic signs
Remove old rbcs Icterus
Remove ammonia Neurologic signs
Metabolize drugs Ineffective drugs, toxic effects


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Vet Med: Applied GI Physiology- Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone DVM PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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