Liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods. It contains protein, iron, and important vitamins, which makes it supportive for anemia and bone health. It is inexpensive, easy to find, and is available in a variety of animal options.
Liver: Yummy and Nutritious
The liver is a vital organ that is key in processing digested foods, storing and creating glucose, iron, vitamins, and essential nutrients, and filtering drugs and toxins from the blood.8 But this organ meat is also delicious and nutritious for your dog.
Liver is inexpensive and readily available in grocery stores and butcher shops. Commonly consumed liver types include:
Liver is also an ingredient found in commercial dog foods and treats.
Is Liver Good for Dogs?
Consuming liver has many health benefits for your dog and is perfectly safe.
A study that followed a group of healthy dogs who ate a chicken-liver-based diet for 45 days found that the dogs maintained normal blood values and had a stable gut microbiome.3 While individual dogs may not tolerate liver or have sensitivities to specific types of liver, in general it is a safe addition to your dog’s diet.
Some of the nutrients that liver contains include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
The iron content of liver is helpful to treat anemia, and the vitamins and minerals are beneficial for bone health.
Which Type of Liver Should I Feed?
As long as your dog doesn’t have a food allergy, any type of liver should be fine to feed. That said, there are some known differences between different species.
Beef liver has more minerals than chicken liver, but chicken liver has more vitamin A and B. Chicken liver also has 30% more fat than beef liver and is higher in polyunsaturated fats.4
If your dog is prone to pancreatitis or has a sensitive stomach, beef liver may be a safer choice than chicken liver.
When to Not Feed Liver
As with anything in life, feeding your dog too much liver can cause issues. This organ meat is quite rich and can overload your dog with nutrients that are not readily processed by and removed from the body.
Problems that can occur due to feeding too much liver include:1,4
- High cholesterol levels
- Vitamin A toxicity
- Copper toxicity in dogs prone to copper storage disease. (This is becoming more common, even in dog breeds not known to have predispositions to copper storage disease.)
If your dog already has high cholesterol levels or is a breed at risk of copper storage disease, you will want to keep liver supplementation at a minimum.
In people, consuming large amounts of beef or chicken liver has been shown to interact with some antibiotics and MAOI antidepressants.5 If your dog is on one of these types of medications, talk to your veterinarian before feeding her liver.
How Much Liver Can Dogs Eat?
Because of how rich liver is and the risk of some nutrient toxicities, it is good to keep track of how much your dog consumes.
Liver should only make up a small percentage of your dog’s diet to maximize benefits while minimizing risks. For example, the average 50-pound dog should eat about 2-3 ounces (about 85.05 g) of liver a day.9
Remember that if there is already liver in your dog’s diet (check your labels!), adding more liver can quickly exceed optimal copper intake. And if the food contains a synthetic copper supplement, the risk is even greater.10,11
Also, be sure that you are factoring the liver when calculating your dog’s daily calories to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Add liver to your dog’s diet slowly, starting with a small amount and working up to the maximum amount. This allows your dog to get used to it and will reduce the risk of diarrhea.
How to Prepare
Dogs can eat beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, duck, and venison liver.6 Although dogs can eat raw liver, consuming raw foods increases the chance of bacterial and parasitic infections and should not be consumed by patients with cancer because they have a compromised immune system.
Instead, simmer the liver in a pan and cook it through to decrease the chances of infection. If your dog is sensitive to fat, cut the liver up before cooking it so that more fat will come out while you are cooking (you can then dab the fat off the liver with a paper towel before feeding to your dog).9
You can get liver from a variety of sources for your dog.
When available, organic and grass-fed meats and meat products are a better choice than commercially produced products. This is because commercially produced meats are generally higher in fat6 and the animals may have had exposure to pesticides and antibiotic resistant bacteria7 (though it should be noted that animals on organic farms may be exposed to organic pesticides).
Grass-fed and/or free range animals, especially cows, also tend to have lower copper amounts in their liver than commercially-farmed animals. Using liver from free range or pasture fed animals helps alleviate copper toxicity concerns.
For the freshest liver, seek out your local butcher shop. Many customers pass up organ meats, so you may be able to negotiate a lower price.
- Liver: Is it good for you? Nourish by WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/liver-good-for-you#:~:text=Liver%20is%20one%20of%20the,your%20risk%20of%20nutrient%20deficiency. Published December 22, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- Rowles A. Why liver is a nutrient-dense superfood. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-liver-is-a-superfood#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3. Published June 7, 2017. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- Pinto CF, de Oliveira BB, Bortolo M, Guldenpfennig R, Marx FR, Trevizan L. Hydrolyzed chicken liver used as single source of animal protein in diet and its effect on cytokines, immunoglobulins, and fecal microbiota profile of adult dogs. PLOS ONE. 2022;17(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0271932
- Bostrum B, Cook A. Diagnosing and treating canine copper-associated hepatopathies. DVM 360. https://www.dvm360.com/view/diagnosing-and-treating-canine-copper-associated-hepatopathies. Published August 1, 2008. Accessed April 12, 2023.
- Understanding Food and medication interactions. Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter. https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/special-reports/understanding-food-and-medication-interactions/. Published September 17, 2019. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal C, et al. Composition differences between organic and conventional meat: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016;115(6):994-1011. doi:10.1017/s0007114515005073
- Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives? Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012;157(5):348. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-5-201209040-00007
- Liver: Anatomy and functions. Liver: Anatomy and Functions | Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/liver-anatomy-and-functions. Published November 19, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2023.
- Dressler D, Ettinger S. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. Maui, HI: Maui Media, LLC; 2011.
- Center Sa, et al. Is It Time To Reconsider Current Guidelines For Copper Content In Commercial Dog Foods? Journal Of The American Veterinary Medical Association. 2021; 258:357-364.
- Strickland JM, Buchweitz JP et al. Hepatic copper concentrations in 546 dogs (1982-2015). J Vet Intern Med. 2018 Nov;32(6):1943-1950
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