from the berner-l

hepatic encephalopathy in older dogs

I have a bit of an emergency, here. My 12 year old Berner, Annie, was just diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver because of the meds she has had to take to manage severe OA. Some of you may remember Annie from past posts on the L years ago. She survived immune-mediated polyarthritis at an early age and a pinnectomy from a mast cell tumor to become a grand old one-eared dame. Her story was published in the Alpenhorn and Whole Dog Journal several years ago.

As a result of the cirrhosis and the circulation of ammonia in her bloodstream, Annie was suffering from hepatic encephalopathy that was producing the following symptoms: confusion, restlessness, head tremors, bumping into things, walking in circles. Once we identified the problem we immediately took her off all protein and the symptoms cleared up. She is bright and alert once again. Right now she cannot tolerate even a small amount of protein (the symptoms return) but we will try to introduce a small amount gradually in a week or so after she has had more time to get the toxins out of her system. Right now she is on a diet of rice only with vitamins. Even the L/D diet is too high protein for her. She is on massive amounts of liver support supplements from the holistic veterinarian on the case, including milk thistle.

I have a team of three veterinarians working on a diet balance that will work for her, but if anyone on the list has experience managing this disease in geriatrics I would appreciate hearing from you. We will begin experimenting to see if there is a form of protein (such as eggs) that she can tolerate. She can't subsist on a carb-only diet forever, but it is a temporary fix until we can get her stabilized.

This little girl who has been such an inspiration to me continues to enjoy life, is remarkably energetic and alert for her age and condition and still gets into mischief on a daily basis. I'm hoping we can find a dietary solution to let her continue enjoying her life for as long as she is able.

Many thanks if you can help.

I am so glad that Annie survived her immune mediated polyarthritis at a young age. My Petunia girl was diagnosed with that at about four years and it was a precursor to her malignant hystiosytosis which came on about a year later. So, good for you and Annie. I do not claim to know much about this, so you might want to check this out with your team of vets. I was thinking that until you can find an animal protein that works well for her, there are several grain options that are relatively high in protein, such as Quinoa. That's the one I'm the most familar with as being high in protein. It can be found at most health food stores. You might even be able to use a fresh chicken stock to cook the quinoa in, if she can handle even the meat protein from the stock. Hope this helps even a little bit. Hugs to 12 year-old Annie.

from the bmdca

When does a Berner qualify as being old? It depends on the dog. For competition purposes, dogs are considered veterans at age seven.

Physical symptoms, like arthritis and blindness, are often thought of as signs of encroaching old age, but degenerative joint changes and blindness can occur in dogs under one year of age.

Eleven-year-old Berners may run and jump, and even manage to keep up with younger dogs. For our practical purpose here of addressing geriatric dogs, we'll refer to an old Swiss saying: "Three years a young dog; three years a good dog; three years an old dog. All else is a gift from God."


Modern veterinary medicine has made tremendous strides in protecting and repairing the health of family companions, and pets are living longer than ever before. This happy state of affairs has led to interest in a relatively new aspect of canine well-being -- care of the aging dog.

Like people, pets go through life stages of growth, maturity, and aging. The passage from one stage to another is often blurred, and owners must be on guard to recognize the signs that Princess is getting old.

Observant families know that Sassy has slowed down in the past year or that Ranger is stiff each morning. They see that Muffin is no longer an eager eater and that she sleeps more deeply than usual. They may notice a fatty tumor under the skin when grooming their pet or notice that he is more easily startled by loud noises. Aging in pets is a gradual process. Organs begin to deteriorate, senses begin to decline, and energy begins to flag. But Muffin, Sassy, and Ranger can be kept comfortable and happy in their last years with a few precautions and accommodations.

Old age comes at different times for different breeds of dogs and different individual dogs. Giant breeds tend to age early, for their life expectancy is generally less than 10 years. Large and medium-sized breeds have a life expectancy of 11-14 years, and small breeds can live 15 years or more.

A strong, healthy dog will probably age later than a dog that is stressed by disease or environment early in his life. Dogs that are spayed or neutered before six months of age ordinarily live longer than dogs that are kept intact.

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