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Canine Trauma

Multiple Causes of Cirrhosis in Dogs

Larry P. Thornburg DVM, University of Missouri

The liver is a remarkable organ. One of the more outstanding features is its ability to regenerate following injury. The Greek poet Hesiod related the story of Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus. As a punishment, Zeus had him chained and sent an eagle to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver regrew again every day.

Disease of the liver is uncommon is dogs; the most common being cancer. However, there are numerous diseases that affect the liver. Among these are infectious agents (bacteria, viruses, and fungi); certain drugs (such as those used to treat seizures); congenital malformation of the liver vascular bed; copper storage disease affects several breeds; and diseases of the heart, pancreas and red blood cells (anemia) can cause secondary liver disease.

One disease process that is poorly understood in dogs is cirrhosis. Copper storage disease, anticonvulsive drugs, infectious canine hepatitis (a virus) and chronic hepatitis (usually of unknown cause) have all been incriminated as causes of cirrhosis. It is unknown how many of these suspected agents can actually cause cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a picture of widespread scar tissue mixed with various-sized nodules of regenerated hepacytes (liver cells). With the remarkable regenerative capacity of the liver, it is a mystery why extensive scarring results in some instances when the liver undergoes widespread destruction.

The anatomy of the cirrhotic liver is the same in all affected dogs, regardless of cause. This observation suggests that there is a mechanism of action common to several different agents. This common pathway may have to do with unique anatomical features of the canine liver as opposed to the liver of man, for example.

My current studies at the University of Missouri are aimed at understanding the mechanism of cirrhosis formation in dogs. One area of investigation is the comparative microscopic anatomy of the normal canine liver. Along with studies of the normal is the need to examine numerous cirrhotic livers. The Liver Registry at the University of Missouri is a continuing study of canine liver disease.

The Liver Registry serves as a resource for consultation and diagnosis of disease. If you have questions about liver diseases in dogs please feel free to call me at (573) 882-7038. Cost of tissue examination is $15. If quantitative copper analysis is required there is an additional $15 charge. If you have tissue samples for examination they should be put in formalin fixative and mailed to:

Dr. Larry P. Thornburg
W211 Veterinary Medicine Building
University of Missouri
Columbia MO 65211

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