Elevated Liver Enzymes in Dogs: What Do They Mean?

Elevated Liver Enzymes in Dogs: What Do They Mean?

Author WDF Staff


The liver is an amazing organ that the dog’s body uses as a filter. It performs more than 500 life-supporting functions. Some of them are breaking down toxins, converting medications into forms the body can use, storing iron, filtering old red blood cells, creating nutrients, and helping with blood clotting. Liver problems should never be taken lightly, and if your vet says your dog has liver problems, you are right to get worried.

Blood tests allow your vet to take a look inside your dog’s body. OK, maybe not actually look inside, but these tests can give them a pretty good idea of what’s happening with the dog’s body. One of the things your vet will look at is liver enzymes. They can tell your vet if something’s wrong with your dog’s liver. Here’s what you should know about elevated liver enzymes in dogs.

What are liver enzymes?

Before we go into their meaning, we need to understand what exactly liver enzymes are. As their name suggests, liver enzymes are enzymes made by the liver. They are released in the dog’s blood, and if the liver functions properly, these enzymes should be within the expected values. However, if your vet notices your dog exhibits symptoms connected to liver issues, like jaundice, increased drinking and urination, vomiting, lethargy, seizures, or fluid buildup, they will take a closer look at your dog’s liver enzymes. Here are the main types of enzymes your vet will look at and what they mean.

dog looking back

WORLD DOG FINDER TIP: Liver enzymes have long, complicated names, so they are abbreviated for easy understanding.

ALP (alkaline phosphatase) liver enzymes

The ALP enzymes are present in the cell membranes of liver cells and bile ducts. There are a few different kinds of ALP enzymes, and they are all connected to different things. That means that elevated ALP liver enzymes don’t necessarily mean something bad. Basic blood tests do not differentiate between different types, so in some cases, vets will need to perform other tests.

What do elevated ALP liver enzymes mean?

As we already mentioned, elevated ALP enzymes can mean different things. If otherwise healthy adult dogs have elevated liver enzymes, it usually means there is a problem with bile ducts. When these ducts are not performing correctly, the liver will produce these enzymes and release them in the blood. It can mean these ducts are blocked, which can mean tumors, blood vessel problems, obstructions, etc. There are also B-ALP, which is an enzyme connected to bones. This is elevated in younger dogs whose bones are still developing.

ALT (alanine aminotransferase) liver enzymes

The second type of liver enzyme your vet will check is ALT. These enzymes are found in liver cells, and if they have an elevated blood value, it points to liver cells breaking down faster than usual. However, their value does not tell us WHY they’re breaking down so fast. It can even mean the liver is entirely healthy, but the dog’s metabolism is too fast. Nevertheless, this is more than enough of a sign to tell your vet to keep looking and pinpoint a potential liver problem.

sad dog looking left

What do elevated ALT liver enzymes mean?

We already mentioned what elevated ALT liver enzymes point to - liver cell breakdown. Vets will take that as a sign to start looking at the possible causes. Some causes are benign, like steroid therapy or medications. The liver breaks them down, and it can be hard work, so the cells start to break down. The dog may have elevated ALT levels because they have severe bowel inflammation or dental problems, which are diseases that might indirectly affect the liver. In relation to liver problems, elevated ALT enzymes can mean toxicity, severe liver inflammation, genetic disorders, immune system overreaction, liver failure, and infection.

RELATED: Liver Disease in Dogs | Causes & Treatment

In conclusion

The liver is a vital organ that performs more than 500 life-supporting functions. You can boost your dog’s liver health with proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Vets will check the dog’s liver enzymes, and the two most common ones are ALT (alanine aminotransferase) and ALP (alkaline phosphatase). Elevated liver enzymes can point to different things, but they usually mean something is affecting the liver’s functions. Make sure to call your vet if you notice anything weird about your dog.

World Dog Finder team

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