Question: Our eight-year-old cat, Byron, has been off his food, vomited a few times and is losing weight. Our regular vet thinks he has liver disease. Are there any holistic ways to help him heal?
C.F., via email
Answer: The liver is the body's largest internal organ, both in animals and humans, and performs many important functions (see page 46). Liver disease is a diagnostic challenge for any vet because 70 percent of the liver needs to be damaged before the problem can be spotted. And many of the symptoms can be signs of other diseases too. The good news is that even when severely damaged, the liver can regenerate given the right support.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Most animals with liver disease will stop eating or get picky with their food. They appear tired and may drink and urinate a lot. Vomiting and diarrhea are common in liver disease, as is fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Jaundice—when the gums and whites of the eyes turn yellow—is another sign, and pets in the advanced stages of the disease may experience weight loss, seizures and aggression. Pets with liver disease also tolerate medication poorly.
After taking a full history and performing a clinical examination of your pet, your vet may want to confirm liver disease by performing various tests, such as blood, fecal and urine tests. Ultrasound examination of the liver will enable your vet to rule out tumors and check for liver enlargement or gall bladder problems, while a liver biopsy is the only way to get a definitive diagnosis of liver disease in most pets. X-rays can also help rule out any obstruction.
Liver disease is very difficult to treat with drugs, but it can be managed with the right diet. The aim of treatment is to stimulate regeneration and prevent further damage.
The most important thing is to make sure Byron is eating. Unlike humans, cats can quickly develop a life-threatening condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, if they starve for a couple of days. Here's a guide on what to feed your pet, as well as some holistic remedies that can help.
Good-quality protein in the right amount is crucial. A commercial prescription diet for liver disease supplemented with cottage cheese is probably the safest option, provided your pet will eat it. Vitamins B and E should be increased in the diet, but not A, C or D.
The key features of a liver-supportive diet are:
• Moderate levels of high-quality protein, such as chicken, fish and turkey
• Easily digestible carbohydrates, such as basmati rice
• Increased levels of fiber, zinc and B vitamins
• Low level of copper
• Moderate salt content.
A home-prepared, natural diet with plenty of vegetables is a good option. Processed pet foods have high amounts of salt, fat and additives, which are detrimental to the liver.
As the liver is an important organ for detoxification, when it is damaged, it's vital to keep the diet simple. See page 55 for a simple recipe you can prepare for Byron at home. You can also feed your pet soy milk and oat porridge with added milk thistle from time to time.
Raw beets are another good option—they can help the liver detoxify. Try feeding your pet ¼ to 2 teaspoons, based on its size, five days per week.
Many vets recommend feeding 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of raw beef or sheep liver to cats and dogs, but this should be done under vet supervision to avoid overloading with copper. Blend a tablespoon of raw liver with raw egg yolk, 1 teaspoon of honey, 2 teaspoons of plain organic yogurt and 1 cup of water and feed a teaspoon of it to your sick cat every hour if he is not eating anything else.
Excellent nutritionally balanced personalized recipes for various disorders, suitable for long-term use, are available from Dr Susan Lauten via www.petnutritionconsulting.com.
Herbal supplements can also help to support the liver. The following can benefit both cats and dogs.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a fantastic herb proven to help liver regeneration and prevent damage from toxins. There are good-quality pet versions of milk thistle available online, but you can also use the human version. Dose according to the label instructions for the pet versions, and adjust the dosage as follows for human versions.
Suggested dosage: for cats and dogs under 15 lb (7 kg) give ¼ the human dose; 15-30 lb (7-14 kg): ½ human dose; 31-50 lb (15-23 kg): ¾ human dose; large dogs can take the full human dose
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an extremely potent herb used as a purifier. Dandelion capsules can be purchased online and dosed according to the instructions on the product.
Turmeric and artichoke are also very useful in liver problems.
Combination herbal formulas like PetAlive Immunity and Liver Support by Native Remedies and Hoxsey-Detox by Natural Pet RX are specifically designed to promote liver and immune system health in cats and dogs. However, both are currently only available in the US (via Amazon).
The following nutritional supplements can help to protect the liver:
Suggested dosage: up to 30 mg/day
Suggested dosage: cats and small dogs: 250 mg twice daily; large dogs: 1,500 mg twice daily (reduce if it causes diarrhea)
Suggested dosage: cats and small dogs: 50 IU daily; medium and large dogs: up to 200 IU daily
Dr Francis Hunter recommends Chelidonium 30C as a good general liver remedy that can help both acute and chronic conditions. Liver Liquescence is another good homeopathic option, but consult with a homeopathic vet for advice on what's best for your pet.
Suggested dosage: Chelidonium 3 times daily for 3-7 days or longer; 10-14 days if there is improvement
Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine
Various Chinese herbal remedies can be helpful for liver problems in pets. One is Shu Gan Wan (comfort liver pills), which is prescribed when there is vomiting on an empty stomach in liver disorders. Consult with a vet trained in TCVM for an individual prescription.
Loss of appetite, which is common in liver disease, can be restored by pressing GV7, a point located on either side of the spine at the level of the 7th vertebra, counting back from the shoulder blades. Massaging this point for one minute twice daily can help.
Vigorous rubbing on the right side of your pet's body over the last three ribs for 30 seconds daily can also stimulate lymphatic circulation. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for more details on how to give acupressure to your pet.
Applying a drop of basil essential oil diluted with vegetable oil to the tips of the ears can help to energize tired pets.
Canine/Feline Nature's Own Hotpot
8 oz (230 g) free-range ground turkey or chicken or chicken breast meat
1 large carrot, grated
1 handful green beans, cut small
1 medium potato, diced
1 handful frozen peas*
2 cabbage leaves, shredded
1) Place all ingredients in a large pan and add enough water to cover.
2) Bring to a boil, then gently simmer for 30 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed (top up the pan with water if it starts to dry out). Allow mixture to cool.
3) Refrigerate for up to three days, or freeze for up to one month.
*Frozen peas are a wonderful freezer food and a source of protein, vitamins B, C and K, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, carotenes and folate. Add a handful of peas to any hot pot recipe at the cooking stage to bulk out the fiber. Dogs and cats alike love lightly cooked peas.
Wheatgrass is a wonderful companion plant for dogs and cats to self-select, as it contains an impressive number of antioxidants and nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E and K, iron, zinc, folate, copper, selenium, potassium and calcium.
It aids in improving digestion, adds fiber to the diet and helps to alkalize the blood and stimulate cell rejuvenation and enzyme activity. Wheatgrass is also useful for detoxification, as it can promote the removal of heavy metals like mercury, lead and aluminum from the body.
Some cats will chew on wheatgrass, ingest it and then regurgitate it. Don't be surprised if your cat eats the wheatgrass it has regurgitated—it's perfectly safe.
You can buy wheatgrass plants from garden centers or buy seeds online and sow them year-round. Alternatively, you can buy organic wheatgrass powder and offer it on a self-selection basis or add to tasty dog and cat treats.
If you decide to grow wheatgrass from seed, keep several small seed trays on the go. Sow seeds about 3 inches (7 cm) deep in good compost and water well. When sprouted, keep on a deep window ledge indoors, where cats can self-select and eat the tips of the lush green grass, which contain the most chlorophyll. Indoor cats especially will welcome this tasty snack, so be aware that you could be replacing the seed trays regularly!
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com