For most dog lovers, treats are one of the ways we tell our dogs that we love them. Even complete strangers carry a few treats in their pockets to connect with dogs and their humans. I have always been a little conflicted about allowing others to give treats to my dogs. Poor quality, low cost treats and other treats are commonplace in stores, offices, and hotels, and most dogs, like humans, are crazy about junk food.
One of the most popular treats that I have seen lately are freeze-dried liver treats. They are so common I see them at the dollar store,
pet stores and warehouse stores at different price points. Often, they are specifically marketed as training treats. I find clients who are new to owning dogs are particularly swayed by this sales technique as they are often looking for a way to redirect their dogs behaviour.
Nutritionally, liver is a rich source of nutrients such as amino acids and fat. It is also a rich source of some vitamins and minerals such as A, B6, B12, C, D, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, phosphorus, and selenium. Naturally, liver is a relatively small portion of a canine diet.
Functionally, the main role of the liver is to detox blood and the body, produce vitamins and amino acids, and manage nutrients and energy resources for the rest of the body. The organ’s function is also to neutralize countless artificial and toxic chemicals from food and the environment. Due to increasingly common food allergies amongst dogs, more canine owners have tried to stay away from junky processed treats and go to single source meat or organ treats. This is one of the reasons why dehydrated liver has become one of the most popular items on the pet store shelves. Unfortunately, the popularity of liver treats has led to a new problem most dog lovers are unaware of: vitamin A hypervitaminosis or so-called liver poisoning.
HOW DOES HYPERVITAMINOSIS HAPPEN?
The main cause of this condition is feeding large quantities of liver, which is a very rich source of vitamin A, a member of the group of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. In the right amounts, Vitamin A is beneficial, but an overdose of Vitamin A can have a harmful effect because an excess of fat-soluble vitamins are much more difficult to eliminate than, for example, water-soluble vitamins B and C.
The reasons why liver treats, especially the dehydrated ones, put our dogs in danger of hypervitaminosis A are that they are greatly reduced in volume during dehydration, and they contain ten times or more vitamin A then raw liver or cooked liver. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin which means it is stored in fat and slower to be metabolized out of a dog’s body than water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C. This means that vitamin A will stay in a dog’s body until it has a job to do, which is why giving large amounts of liver treats is a problem as they amount of vitamin A will simply skyrocket as more liver treats are fed to the dog.
I have seen people giving their dogs large amounts of liver treats daily or on a very regular basis, which leads to problems.
THE SYMPTOMS OF HYPERVITAMINOSIS A
An excess of vitamin A causes disturbances in bone metabolism, increased bone resorption, and decreased bone production. This can lead to osteoporosis, spontaneous bone fractures, elevated blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia), and abnormal joint calcification.
Another symptom of hypervitaminosis A is a disturbance in absorption and function of other fat-soluble vitamins - D, E and K.
Under normal circumstances, dogs need vitamin A, and it is fine to give vitamin supplements with fermented vitamins. However, nature never counted on dogs getting large amounts of liver which can become a big problem.
DIAGNOSIS OF LIVER TREAT TOXICITY - HYPERVITAMINOSIS A
If your dog has hypervitamonisis A, diagnosis is not a straightforward process. Hypervitaminosis symptoms are vague and can mimic many other problems, thus a veterinarian may have to order many different tests. Radiographs, blood calcium, cholesterol, liver enzymes, and finally vitamin A (retinol) levels help to diagnose the condition, unfortunately all those tests are expensive.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION OF LIVER TREAT TOXICITY
If your dog likes liver treats, do not give it more than a couple of pieces a week, especially if the treats are dehydrated.
If you have been feeding your dog a large amount of dehydrated liver treats, and your dog does not show any symptoms, stop giving liver treats completely for at least three to six months
Should your dog be experiencing any symptoms of distress and ill health take them to your veterinarian immediately.
Any general recommendations that DrNatalie makes are not a substitute for the appropriate veterinary care and are for informational and educational purposes only.