Feeding the Fragile Scottie Liver

Feeding the Fragile Scottie Liver

Written by Annie Bringloe for Great Scots Magazine, Jan/Feb 2006, pg. 32-33, and reproduced with the kind permission of Joseph Harvill, editor, owner, publisher, Great Scots Magazine

The liver is an amazing, almost magical organ. It carries out approximately 1,500 biochemical functions such as metabolism of drugs, removal of toxins and synthesis of necessary products for other functions such as metabolism for food energy.

Unlike the heart, lungs or brain, it can keep on going for years without giving many clues indicating its health. It has tremendous storage capacity and repairs it’s own damage until the day that disease finally overwhelms the process. At that point the damage can be quite severe.

Scottie owners often get the frightening news about liver problems when they elect to have pre-anaesthesia blood tests before teeth cleaning. The liver enzyme tests may indicate some problem, often with few signs and symptoms of any disease. Depending on those numbers, further tests may be necessary such as ultrasonic imaging, fasting followed by post-meal serum bile acid determination and ammonia tolerance testing. A liver biopsy may be necessary to definitively assess liver health, however there are risks involved in that procedure.

A common diagnosis for Scotties after all the tests are complete is “chronic idiopathic hepatitis and cirrhosis”. Idiopathic means that no particular cause can be identified for the problem. Cirrhosis means inflammation of the liver, not that your Scottie has been raiding the wine clear. Alcohol is just one chemical that gradually overwhelms healthy livers.

There is really no cure for most Scottie liver diseases. Few drugs can be used to treat an ailing canine liver. The liver metabolises drugs and toxins and an additional load of these can actually retard healing. That leaves the Scottie owner with the considerable responsibility of investigating and controlling every morsel of food that passes through those big pearly whites. That nurturing gift of care may help the liver heal more efficiently and keep your Scottie happy and relatively healthy for additional years.

Commercial Dog Food : Commercial dog foods, even the expensive organic brands, are full of problems for the ailing canine liver. There are many foods and additives that are taxing to the liver including meat source and quantity, fibre, and some vegetables and fats. The only additives commonly recommended in veterinary literature to assist ailing livers are anti-oxidants: 400 IU of vitamin E and 500mg of vitamin C. All the other tasty sounding ingredients such as tomato pomace or organic beef are more difficult for the liver to handle than simpler sources of protein, carbohydrates and fat.

Prescription Dog Foods : Prescription dog foods are available to make the job of providing nutrition easier. Some of these include Hills Science Diet L/D, Pedigree Canine Hepatic Support Diet, Purina CNM Canine NF Formula and Waltham/Pedigree Canine low Protein Diet. Your veterinarian probably carries one or more of these foods. Some of these foods have additives and preservatives such as ethoxyquin, a somewhat controversial substance. However, it is actually an anti-oxidant and present in dog food in an extremely small amount. Compared to the ill effects of other ingredients such as excess protein, I believe the risk of ethoxyquin is very low compared to the benefit of the prescription food.

Homecooked Scottie Diet : There is another way to provide an optimal diet for your liver-challenged Scottie. Cook it yourself. This is not very time consuming and has the advantage of precision. You will know exactly what is in the food and where it came from. No more worries about what “animal by-product meal” really means or whether the carbohydrate source was actually swept off the floor.

My guidebook for the Scottie liver diet is Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, The Healthful Alternative, by Donald R. Strombeck, DVM, PhD.  Dr Strombeck comes with sterling credentials as Professor Emeritus, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and is a well known, award winning, veterinary gastroenterologist. This book should be in your library.

According to Dr Strombeck, the ideal canine liver diet consists of carefully chosen and balanced protein, high quality and highly digestible carbohydrates, about 20 to 25% high quality fat, and multivitamins with extra E and C. A diet consisting of cottage cheese and/or tofu, an easily digested starch such as polished white rice or potato, an easily digested fat such as rendered chicken fat and a multivitamin tablet will provide the necessary protein for liver renewal without excess burden on the system. Vitamin B-12 can be given with one sardine twice a month, a day my Scotties really look forward to.

Daily Liver Diet

Here are two of Dr Strombeck’s recipes that my dogs seem to like.

Cottage Cheese, Tofu and Rice Diet

(supports a 20lb Scottie for one day. Feed half in the morning, half in the evening)

  •  ½ cup 1% fat cottage cheese
  • ⅔ cup of firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
  • 1½ cups rice, cooked, long-grain white
  • 1 tablespoon chicken fat
  • Quarter teaspoon salt substitute (potassium chloride)
  • 3, 10 grain bone meal tablets
  • 1 multiple vitamin

Cottage cheese and rice Diet

(supports an 18lb Scottie for one day. Feed half in the morning, half at night)

  •  1½ cups rice, cooked, long-grain white 
  • 1 cup 1% fat cottage cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chicken fat
  • Quarter teaspoon salt substitute (potassium chloride)
  • 3, 10 grain bone meal tablets
  • 1 multiple vitamin

Preparation notes: I can’t find chicken fat in a jar in my city so I make my own by boiling chicken parts and skimming off the fat after it has hardened in the fridge. Remember to leave out the salt. It is not good for dogs. You can season the broth and chicken for your own consumption later. Usually Safeway has 1% cottage cheese. I usually make enough homemade food for one week and put it into 2-cup containers for the freezer.

Dog Treats for the Liver

Treats, especially training treats, have been a challenge. I train my dogs almost everyday and use treats. The store-bought treats are worse that most everyday dog food in nutritional value and bring negative impact on an ailing liver. Hot dogs, a common training treat are full if additives, dubious ingredients and too much protein. Just say “no” to all commercial treats. With the exception of an occasional carrot or apple slice, resist feeding any leftovers from our kitchen or dinner plate.

My cottage cheese and Rice Treats

  • 3 cups 1% cottage cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chicken fat or canola oil
  • Half teaspoon salt substitute
  • 4 crushed bone meal tablets, or 3 teaspoons bone meal
  • Enough white rice flour to make a stiff dough

Whirl cottage cheese in a blender or food processor until fairly smooth. Add fat, salt substitute and bone meal. Add enough rice flour to form a dough ball. Knead briefly. Roll out the dough on rice flour to ¼ inch thickness. Transfer to a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick product. Pre-cut with a knife or pizza wheel into desired sizes. Bake in a 160°C/ 325°F oven until lightly browned (about 35-40 minutes). Turn off oven and leave treats in oven until cool. Remove and freeze in zip-loc bags. Remember to subtract treats from the daily food allowance to avoid pudgy Scottie syndrome, another serious health problem.

It may seem revolutionary to feed such a restrictive, almost vegetarian diet to a Scottie. However, the scientific data suggest that feeding a regular, commercial, canine food is taking a shotgun approach to an individual dog’s nutritional needs. In the case of Scotties with liver problems, a home prepared diet is the best alternative. My Scotties sometimes receive purchased prescription food when I am unable to guarantee the freshness of their home prepared diet or I run out of it. They love their crunchy, cottage cheese treats and seem to be thriving. More than that, frequent blood tests and liver evaluations show that their liver problems are not getting any worse, which for my 12 year old is very welcome news.


Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD, Home Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, The Healthful Alternative (Iowa State University Press, 1999)

Michael S. Hand, DVM, PhD and Bruce J. Novotny DVM, eds., Pocket Companion to Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition (Mark Morris Institute, 2002)

My usual comment, I know, is that not all these Scottie related articles printed/published on this site will suit your Scottie’s current lifestyle, but they are certainly worth reading to find out what other scottie owners have considered, found useful and are prepared to share with others.


20 Comments Add yours

  1. alc22 says:

    thank you for this very informative article 😉

    1. You are most welcome. And “Thank You” for your visits and your support – it’s much appreciated.

    2. keenan says:

      hate to throw this in but what about the arsenic in rice? this book was written way back when and now there are articles about the levels of arsenic in rice.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Arsenic in rice seems a bit strange? What sources quoted this?

  2. techlady911 says:

    I am thunderstruck. We have been battling soaring ALTs (among other things) with my precious Scottie for months. I cannot express how thrilled I am to have stumbled upon your blog!
    I made up my mind several weeks ago to cook for Emme at home; the commercial prescription diets just seem so full of chemicals and fillers that they frighten me. I’ve had three veterinarians working with us, and they all have different advice about what she needs in her diet. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for this post! I’m going to see if I can find a copy of Dr. Strombeck’s book. Bless you!

  3. techlady911 says:

    One more thing – when you say that VItamin B-12 can be given with a sardine, do you mean that the sardine *provides* the B-12, or is it the “pill pocket” for a supplement tab/softgel? Thanks!

    1. Sorry I was delayed in replying. I’ve heard a couple of friends give their scotties a 1ml dose of B12 syrup each morning with their scotties breakfasts – it would seem that the B12 is a supplement. Hope this helps

      1. techlady911 says:

        Yes, it does. Thank you so much!

    2. Neth says:

      I just started giving my almost 2 year old Scottie Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil. Is that okay for his liver?? I don’t want it to cause a fatty liver. He only gets 2 small pumps a day.

  4. what about milk thistle and SAM-E…there have been studies that say (Purdue) it lowers ALP and ALT. There is also a fish based liver-cleansing diet that has been published in the STCA (Scottish Terrier Club of America) magazine The Bagpiper that also has been very good at lowering these levels.

  5. Paul Martingell says:

    The eldest of our two Scotties, Pip aged 9 years, has just been diagnosed with a liver problem. Her skin broke out into various lumps and bumps, she became lethargic and her coat was dull. She started scratching herself frantically and eventually caused a large sore area on her neck. The vet recognised this as a liver problem and has put her a a tonic called super-skin and we will get another tonic in the near future. Both Scotties have been fed on commercial foods along with fresh raw carrots and the like but I think now we will change to a diet as you have recommended. I feel this would be a good move as they get older. Thanks again, from Pip and Bertie in Twickenham, UK

  6. Pat says:

    My 7 yrr old Scottie has from baby to now suffered early morning vomiting of foamy yellow liquid. Anyone have similar problem and if so what did you do to correct?

  7. MissingMyMax says:

    Please do not let your Scottie’s liver problems sneak up on you like mine did. My Scottie passed yesterday from fulminant hepatic failure. Three days ago he was playing and active, though he acted depressed. I noticed he was becoming jaundiced so I took him to his vet that evening and he was hospitalized. He was given IV fluids and antibiotics, and the following day was doing better. Yesterday, when I expected to get the call saying I could come pick him up, his vet very tearfully told me that he had taken a turn for the worse, and was now having persistent seizures. Medication would not break the seizures, his jaundice was worse, and when I saw him he was almost gone. There was nothing that could be done for my baby and I lost him. We were best friends, and he had been healthy his entire life except for skin allergies.

    I am devastated and am unfortunately reading this article too late. LOVE YOUR SCOTTIE EVERY DAY and look after his health, especially his liver.

  8. Dorothy Harris says:

    I would like to warn everyone about the dangers of some of the vaccinations and especially giving multiple ones at a time. I recently lost my little Scottie pup, Gryffin was just 5 months. It was 9 days after vaccinations and he died suddenly. I had an autopsy done and everything came back fine with no trauma, infections, virus, heart disease etc. I am convinced and many other breeders are too that these vaccines can kill and must be given with caution. I am in the United States and have heard that we give more vaccines than the UK.

    1. Sherry says:

      My first scottie almost died from the vaccinations. She was sick for 3 days, didn’t sleep. Horrible.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I have a 10 yr old female scotty named Rosie. she has been very lethargic, skinny, peeing everywhere even on herself when laying down awake! the peeing is driving me nuts and I have no money for a vet check. she is eating and eliminating soild waste fine. she also has nasty light brownish chunks of dander on hertail legs and but. she seems as though she hates me and looks like she wants to bite me often. she is my sweet little pooey! she and I have been together since she was a pup.

  10. Susan Brooks says:

    What type of “multiple vitamin” should I use?

  11. Salena Maazaoui says:

    My female Scottie died of liver failure in March after a long period of sporadic skin issues. Blood tests pre-teeth cleaning at the age of 10 showed a mild elevation of ALT, but vet was indifferent about it. 3 yrs later her levels were off the charts. Fed her grain-free dry food for her last several years + she loved broccoli slaw & carrots. Gave her a multi-vitamin + brewer’s yeast tablet daily. I wish I had been aware of this diet, but am questioning the absence of any real meat (like chicken) in these diets. Is it recommended to NOT give any chicken (except the mentioned chicken fat) in their diet? If ever I get another Scottie, I would like to start out on the right foot from day 1.

  12. After switching to this diet, if i come off presctiption Hill’s l/d, do i continue his meds? (Ursodial and something other than Denamarin since he refuses that now) I’d like to not give any meds at all.

    1. Hi, if your scottie is on any medication prescribed by your vet, I would recommend that you discuss any changes with the vet before proceeding with the change in diet, and most certainly before withdrawing any medication your scottie is currently receiving. Kx

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