Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Dr. Gary Thompson

Scabs could be sign of liver failure in dog

Dear Dr. Thompson: Our 1-year old Labradoodle developed scabs and pus on his stomach. Initially, they said he had a staph infection. He was started on antibiotics, but actually got worse. Our vet said he had allergies and he was taking antihistamines. For awhile we were able to manage the infections with bathing. Last week he broke out again with sores and pus, and it never cleared up. He wouldn't eat for the two days before he passed but his stomach became huge and it jiggled. He was a miserable mess and he was euthanized after what the vet said was a horrible infection. We are wondering what happened.

Let me start by offering my condolences for the loss of your dog at such a young age and having been through such a difficult time. Unfortunately, without knowing the specifics of what the symptoms and findings were with your pet, I can only offer some general thoughts. The vast majority of routine skin infections are easily managed with common antibiotics. The crusts and scabs that you describe are typical of staph bacterial infections; however, the failure to respond to therapy and what sounds like a dramatic progression of more serious symptoms does not.

The distended abdomen you describe and the soft, fluid-like appearance leads me to believe that multiple organ systems may have been involved and liver failure would be high on the list of considerations. A rare condition called hepatocutaneous syndrome may have been the source of your pet's troubles. Liver failure can have a very insidious progression and you may not be aware of the loss of liver function. Some people may notice an increase in thirst or vomiting, but often no major symptoms are present. The end stage disease results in a sudden accumulation of fluid in the abdomen from the body's inability to produce a major blood protein that helps keep liquid in the bloodstream.

The skin lesions may be on the underside of the abdomen and many times the pets have cracked footpads. Symptoms can mimic a serious skin infection or some autoimmune skin diseases. In people this syndrome is often linked to a tumor on the pancreas, but in dogs it almost always is associated with liver failure. There are many theories as to why skin crusts and scabs develop, but most studies suggest that the body's inability to produce essential proteins and fatty acids leads to unhealthy skin.

Your dog's young age when the trouble started suggests a congenital liver deformity that was likely present at birth that did not affect him until he was older. Most dogs with skin disease associated with liver failure are much older, but if a structural problem like an abnormal blood vessel in the liver may have been present, you could have seen a sudden progression of the disease.

Again, without knowing the specifics of his case I can only offer general opinions and my sympathy during this difficult time. However, if hepatocutaneous syndrome was the source of your dog's condition the long-term outlook was not good and you made the loving decision to end his suffering.

Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be e-mailed to or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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