The Liver

If you’re ever stranded in Alaska in survival mode and must save yourself by eating a polar bear (before it eats you – polar bears are one of the most dangerous bears around) do NOT eat their liver! Eating a polar bear liver could kill you! (they accumulate huge amounts of Vitamin A in their livers, which is toxic at high levels). Livers fascinate in other ways. Liver is considered one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat, packed with vitamins, minerals and protein. Packed with iron to prevent anemia. Think French pates, liver and caramelized onions, foie gras. But the liver doesn’t start out as a benefit for our tables, this important abdominal organ is best known as the body’s “workhorse” or factory. It is considered the most crucial organ in the body. (The heart is obviously very important, but it doesn’t do half the things the liver does to keep a body going). Tucked under the diaphragm that divides the abdomen from the chest, the liver’s dark maroon lobes fill the upper right side of the abdomen. The liver makes body proteins and blood clotting factors. The liver makes enzymes and antibodies and detoxifies the blood. It is the only internal organ capable of regenerating itself when damaged.


She was a dog as straightforward as her name. “Patty” was a blue merle Australian Shepherd. She grew up on a farm, did her chores, followed her master faithfully and if a cow kicked at her or some mud got in her coat she just accepted it and kept going. Patty had a job to do. Vaccinations and visits with the vet were also just a part of life and she accepted that and moved on. Petting and treats from strangers were accepted graciously but certainly not begged for. Patty knew her value.


Every good athlete eventually faces that moment of recognition when the youngster can run faster and jump higher. So it came to pass that Patty, with all her experience of years and dog smarts, was noticeably slower than the younger dogs she had helped train. Time to start her on some arthritis medication. Wonderful news, it helped. Patty could still put on a good show. She’d been on medication for about four months when her owner carried her in to the vet hospital one morning. Patty wasn’t eating, had been vomiting. And she wouldn’t even get up to check out the barn in the morning. Something was very wrong.


Should you ever see any creature, animal or human, suffering from jaundice you will not soon forget it. From across the room the whites of Patty’s eyes glowed neon yellow. I lifted her lip to inspect her gum color and instead of a healthy bubblegum pink color they also glowed a dull yellow. The insides of her ears were eerily yellow. Patty was jaundiced, or in medical terms “icteric”. Jaundice means to turn yellow. The yellow color comes from a pigment found in red blood cells that have broken down. The liver is supposed to help process this

by-product, then wash it into the intestine so it can pass out of the body. If liver function is compromised, this yellow pigment called bilirubin will build up in the bloodstream to toxic levels, turning mucous membranes and even skin yellow. Patty was in critical condition.


Bloodwork, x-rays and an abdominal ultrasound all provided answers to different pieces of the puzzle. We were able to determine that although Patty’s liver function was severely compromised, she did not have an infection or cancer. Although a working farm dog, Patty had not been exposed to pesticides or other toxins. Our differential included the possibility that she was suffering an adverse reaction to her medication. Patty was hospitalized and started on intensive IV therapy to flush the bilirubin out of her system. Medications to relieve other symptoms of nausea and provide hepato-protection were also administered intra-venously. We monitored her progress  through daily blood tests. Over 48 hours passed before we could visibly see the fading of yellow from her skin. Patty made it. To be safe, we changed her arthritis medication to one processed by the kidneys. The cows sent their thanks.


Christine B. McFadden, DVM





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