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Decoding Liver Disharmony in Dogs: A Journey from Western Medicine to TCVM

Your dog’s liver is akin to a tireless worker behind the scenes – a crucial organ playing a myriad of roles. It’s the power-house of detoxification, the master regulator of metabolism, and a vital cog in digestion. If your dog’s body were a bustling city, the liver would be the essential municipal services, working round the clock to keep things running smoothly.

The Liver’s Role In The Dog’s Body

From metabolizing fats, proteins, and carbs to storing essential vitamins and minerals, the liver does it all. It also produces vital proteins like albumin, vital for maintaining the balance of fluid in your dog’s body, and clotting factors, crucial for blood coagulation.

Furthermore, it’s the liver’s job to remove harmful substances from the bloodstream. It’s like a vigilant gatekeeper, purging your dog’s body of toxins, medication by-products, and waste. That’s not all – the liver also plays a pivotal role in digestion by producing bile, a substance vital for breaking down and absorbing fats in your dog’s diet.

What Happens When the Liver Gets Sick?

Western Perspective:

When the liver gets sick, the consequences can be severe. Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), hepatic lipidosis (fat accumulation in the liver cells), liver shunt (abnormal blood flow), and even liver cancer are some conditions that can wreak havoc on your dog’s liver.

Many factors can trigger liver problems in dogs. Genetic predisposition, viral infections, toxins, and prolonged use of certain medications can all lead to liver disease. Even age and obesity can increase the risk of liver problems.

Eastern Perspective

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) sees the liver as more than just an organ. It’s considered the seat of your dog’s ‘Hun’ or ethereal soul and is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (pronounced ‘chi’) and blood throughout the body. A healthy liver ensures harmony and balance.

In the case of the liver, we often encounter patterns of excess or stagnation. The liver, which is responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood throughout the body, can fall into disharmony, leading to an excess accumulation or stagnation of Qi and blood.

Imagine a river flowing freely. Now visualize a dam blocking its path. This is similar to what happens when the liver’s flow of Qi and blood becomes stagnant or excessive. Symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, and other physical manifestations can arise when the liver’s vital flow is obstructed.

The treatment strategy in TCVM will be to clear these excesses and move the Qi and blood, much like dismantling the dam to restore the river’s flow. This may involve a combination of acupuncture, herbal remedies, diet modifications, and exercises, all aimed at restoring harmony and promoting the free flow of Qi and blood. Specific acupuncture points can be used to stimulate the flow of Qi, while certain herbs and foods known for their ‘Qi-moving’ properties can be incorporated into the diet.

By clearing the excesses and re-establishing the smooth flow of Qi and blood, we’re not just targeting the symptoms, but also working to restore your dog’s overall balance and vitality. It’s a journey back to harmony and health, step by step, under the gentle guidance of the wisdom of TCVM nutritionist, practitioner or doctor.

Blood Tests and the Liver

When it comes to diagnosing liver disease, your vet will likely look at several key blood parameters. ALT (alanine aminotransferase), AST (aspartate aminotransferase), and ALP (alkaline phosphatase) are indeed crucial markers for liver health. In addition, the vet may check for bilirubin levels and serum bile acids. High levels of these enzymes in the blood often suggest a liver problem.

Signs and Symptoms of Liver Imbalance from a TCVM Perspective

From a TCVM perspective, observing your dog’s behavior, appearance, and even their sleep patterns can provide valuable insights into the state of their liver energy, or ‘Liver Qi’. One of the most telling signs of a liver imbalance is alterations in your dog’s eyes, as the liver is said to ‘open into the eyes’ in TCVM. You might notice changes in eye appearance, such as dullness or cloudiness, or perhaps red, bloodshot eyes. Your dog may also display a heightened sensitivity to light.

Next, let’s examine the paws. In TCVM, the liver governs the tendons and sinews, so issues with the liver might show up as problems in the limbs. This could include weakness, stiffness, or difficulties in movement. Your dog might be less enthusiastic about their walks, show discomfort when getting up, or even display signs of lameness.

Curiously, the liver’s energy peaks between 1 am and 3 am in the circadian rhythm. If your dog is consistently restless during these hours, frequently waking up or showing signs of discomfort, it could indicate a disruption in the smooth flow of Liver Qi.

Imbalances in the liver can also affect other organ systems, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the body in TCVM.

Remember, these are general indications and should be used as a guide. Any changes in your dog’s behavior, appearance, or habits should be evaluated by a TCVM veterinarian to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment. Weaving together both western and TCVM perspectives provides a holistic approach to your dog’s well-being and can support their journey back to balance and vitality.

Can The Liver Regenerate Itself?

Incredibly, the liver is one of the few organs in the body capable of regeneration. Much like a mythical phoenix, the liver can rise from the ashes of damage and restore itself to its former glory – provided the damage isn’t too extensive or prolonged.

The Liver’s Role In Digestion and Its Relationship With the Gallbladder

The liver produces bile, crucial in fat digestion and absorption. This bile, stored and concentrated in the gallbladder, is released into the small intestine when your dog eats, helping break down fats and promoting the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Supplements and Foods For Dog’s Liver Health

Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associates or other programs I participate in). At no charge to you, as an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  

Certain supplements can help. Milk thistle is known for its liver-supporting properties, thanks to its active compound, silymarin, which has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Glutathione, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) and S-Adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) are other supplements that can aid liver function and promote detoxification.

Glutathione, often dubbed the ‘master antioxidant’, is a powerful compound naturally produced in your dog’s body. It’s composed of three amino acids – cysteine, glycine, and glutamate – and plays a crucial role in neutralizing harmful free radicals, detoxifying toxins, and supporting the immune system.

In the context of liver health, glutathione is vital. The liver, being the primary detoxification organ, relies heavily on glutathione to neutralize toxins and free radicals. In fact, the highest concentration of glutathione in the body is found in the liver. When the liver is stressed or diseased, glutathione stores can become depleted, compromising its ability to detoxify and leading to further liver damage.

Buy on Amazon:

  • Milk Thistle – Don’t feed more than 3 weeks at a time. Take a few weeks break from them. I tend to use the human brand and then adjust the dose down to the dogs. Assume that that human brand is for 120 lb human and then adjust down.
  • SAM-e

The Role of NAC

NAC is a derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine. It’s a potent antioxidant that helps boost levels of glutathione in the body. Glutathione, as mentioned earlier, is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants and is highly concentrated in the liver, where it aids in detoxification processes.

In the context of liver health, NAC can be particularly helpful. It supports liver function by promoting detoxification, reducing oxidative stress, and boosting levels of glutathione. This is particularly important when the liver is under stress or has been damaged, as it helps the liver to heal and to remove potentially harmful substances from the body.

SAMe, or S-Adenosylmethionine, is a molecule that’s naturally produced in the body. It’s involved in various biochemical reactions and plays a critical role in liver health.

SAMe helps maintain cell membrane fluidity and integrity, promotes detoxification, and assists in the production and utilization of glutathione. It’s a potent liver-protective compound, and its levels can be compromised in conditions of liver disease.

Supplementing with SAMe can provide significant benefits for dogs with liver problems. It helps to improve liver function, reduce inflammation, and support cell repair and regeneration. SAMe is typically given orally on an empty stomach for maximum absorption.

Food Sources of Glutathione, NAC and SAMe

Anytime I talk about supplements I will also explore if these supplements can be found in food.

Glutathione can be found in modest amounts in various foods. However, it’s worth noting that the bioavailability of glutathione from food sources is typically low, as the digestive process can break down much of the glutathione before it can be utilized.

NAC, being a modified form of the amino acid cysteine, is not typically found in food in its NAC form. However, cysteine itself can be found in various protein-rich foods.

Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products are all rich in protein and can provide a good amount of cysteine. Additionally, some legumes and seeds like lentils and sunflower seeds contain cysteine, though dogs’ diets should predominantly be protein-based.

Despite this, foods such as lean meats, organ meats (especially liver), fish, and certain vegetables (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage) do contain glutathione and could contribute to its overall availability in your dog’s body.

SAMe is produced naturally in the body from the essential amino acid methionine. Like NAC, SAMe itself isn’t typically found in foods, but you can provide your dog with foods rich in methionine, which the body can then use to produce SAMe.

Meat and fish, eggs, and dairy products are rich in methionine. Therefore, a diet that contains a sufficient amount of high-quality animal proteins will likely provide plenty of methionine for your dog.

One significant step to consider is transitioning your dog from a kibble-based diet to a fresh food. Now, why is this so beneficial? Kibble, while convenient, often contains processed ingredients and preservatives, which can place additional strain on an already struggling liver. Fresh food, on the other hand, offers a bounty of easily digestible, nutrient-rich options that not only ease the liver’s load but also contribute to overall health.

TCVM food therapy can also offer valuable insights. Foods that nourish the liver and promote the smooth flow of Qi can be beneficial. It’s best to consult with a TCVM practitioner to tailor a diet specific to your dog’s needs. Alternatively, I can help you formulate a diet for your dog to bring the Liver back into harmony.

Sulforaphane – the Liver’s Little Helper

Sulforaphane is a naturally occurring compound in cruciferous vegetables, particularly abundant in broccoli and its sprouts. This remarkable phytochemical has been the subject of many studies due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But how does it benefit your dog’s liver, you ask? Let’s dive into the details.

The liver is essentially your dog’s chemical processing plant. It’s working hard, performing a multitude of tasks, from metabolizing nutrients and medicines to producing bile for digestion, and detoxifying harmful substances. When the liver is under stress or suffers from chronic conditions, these essential tasks can be compromised.

Enter sulforaphane, stage right. Sulforaphane is known for its ability to activate the Nrf2 pathway – a key regulator of antioxidant response in the body. When triggered, the Nrf2 pathway ramps up the production of antioxidant and detoxifying enzymes. These enzymes help to neutralize harmful free radicals and toxins, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation – two major culprits in chronic liver disease.

Studies have found that sulforaphane can protect liver cells from damage caused by toxins, reduce inflammation, and even help slow the progression of liver disease. While most of these studies are in lab animals and humans, the results are promising for our canine companions as well.

Brocolli Sprouts vs. Broccoli

Now, if sulforaphane were a precious mineral, broccoli sprouts would be the goldmine. While broccoli contains a respectable amount of sulforaphane, broccoli sprouts are the champions, boasting up to 100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli. This is due to higher concentrations in the seeds and young sprouts, around three to four days old.

If you’re seeking the benefits of sulforaphane for your dog’s liver health, including broccoli sprouts in their diet could be a wise choice. These sprouts can be homegrown or bought from most grocery stores, lightly steamed, and then added to your dog’s meal.

Recipe: Liver Support Topper – Broccoli, Blueberry Broth

  • 2 cups of broccoli sprouts (or broccoli or kale)
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup of high-quality bone broth (preferably homemade or a trusted brand with no added salt or spices)


  1. Start by thoroughly rinsing the broccoli sprouts and blueberries under cold water to ensure they’re clean and free from any pesticides or dirt.
  2. In a blender, add the washed sprouts and blueberries.
  3. Pour the bone broth into the blender. The bone broth not only adds a meaty flavor that dogs love but is also packed with beneficial collagen and minerals.
  4. Blend these ingredients until it’s well blended so it’s easy for your pup to consume and digest.
  5. The topper can be mixed directly into their dry or wet food, evenly coating the kibble or cooked meal or raw food.
  6. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Make sure to use it within 1 to 3 days to ensure freshness.

Chinese Herbs

Chinese herbs have a storied history of bolstering the liver, primarily by promoting the smooth flow of Qi and balancing the Yin and Yang elements.

  1. Dandelion Root: Known for its detoxifying properties, dandelion root can stimulate the liver and promote bile production, which helps in digestion and nutrient absorption.
  2. Bupleurum (Chai Hu): Bupleurum can help soothe liver Qi stagnation, thus reducing inflammation and aiding in the smooth flow of Qi.
  3. Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi): These nourishing berries are believed to benefit the liver by supporting its Yin energy, in turn promoting liver health and function.
  4. Chinese Skullcap (Huang Qin): This herb has a cooling effect and is used to clear heat and dampness from the liver, reducing inflammation and supporting overall liver health.

Chinese Herbs are not sold as individual ingredients and should only be given under the guidance of a TCVM Vet.

Dr. Dennis Thomas

Holistic Health Care for Pets
1707 E. 11th Ave, Spokane WA 99202
Call: 509-214-2676

If you would like to contact him via email: DrThomasHolisticvet@yahoo.com

I use him for my own dogs, and refer clients to him when a TCVM vet isn’t available in your city.

Lastly, Let’s Talk About Movement and Organ Massage – A Walking Meditation For Your Dog’s Liver

In the timeless medicine of TCVM, movement is more than just physical exercise; it’s a dynamic dance that helps to maintain the body’s energy flow or ‘Qi’. Now, let’s take this concept for a walk, focusing on your dog’s liver. In TCVM, the liver is the organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. When the liver is in harmony, Qi flows freely, nourishing all other organs and systems.

Now imagine your dog’s daily walk as a gentle, rhythmic massage for the liver and other organs. Each step encourages the flow of Qi, supporting the liver’s function and promoting overall well-being. Walking also stimulates blood flow, another key component of liver health. The increased circulation helps to carry away toxins and brings in fresh nutrients, which are vital for liver cell repair and regeneration.

Moreover, walking and movement can help to release any Qi that is ‘stuck’ or ‘stagnant’, a common problem when the liver is out of balance. This stuck Qi can lead to various health issues from a TCVM perspective, including behavioral changes, digestive problems, and more.

Therefore, those daily walks are doing more than just providing exercise and mental stimulation for your dog – they’re also helping to maintain the smooth flow of Qi, supporting liver health, and overall vitality. So, keep up with those daily strolls and treasure this walking meditation for your dog’s liver and overall well-being.

In Closing

From the intricate machinations of this organ from both Western and TCVM perspectives, I hope that I’ve been able to simplify and peel back the layers of complexity surrounding this vital organ.

If your dog’s liver is out of balance you can:

  • Add Milk Thistle to their diet
  • Add SAMe
  • Feed or top off meals with foods that will support the liver
  • Lower stress relief through daily walks.
  • Chinese Herbs through your TCVM vet

I hope you found this article useful. Until next time, may you and your dogs enjoy bountiful health and harmony!


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Tedesco DEA, Guerrini A. Use of Milk Thistle in Farm and Companion Animals: A Review. Planta Med. 2023 May;89(6):584-607. doi: 10.1055/a-1969-2440. Epub 2022 Oct 27. PMID: 36302565.

Houghton CA, Fassett RG, Coombes JS. Sulforaphane and Other Nutrigenomic Nrf2 Activators: Can the Clinician’s Expectation Be Matched by the Reality? Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:7857186. doi: 10.1155/2016/7857186. Epub 2016 Jan 6. PMID: 26881038; PMCID: PMC4736808.

Kikuchi M, Ushida Y, Shiozawa H, Umeda R, Tsuruya K, Aoki Y, Suganuma H, Nishizaki Y. Sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprout extract improves hepatic abnormalities in male subjects. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Nov 21;21(43):12457-67. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i43.12457. PMID: 26604653; PMCID: PMC4649129.

Author Biography

Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.

She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.

She is available for one on one consultations. Additionally, you can find her sharing free content on Instagram.

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