The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies Bicentenary

New blood test for liver disease in dogs

Dogs set to benefit from simple blood test to spot liver disease.

New research at the School has led to the development of a blood test, that studies suggest will show early signs of liver disease in dogs. 

The test, based on insights gained from treating human patients, could help vets identify damage and start treatment early, helping to save the lives of many dogs. The test is to be launched worldwide and will mean that fewer dogs will have to undergo invasive liver biopsies.

Diagnosing canine liver disease is challenging and catching early signs of damage is key to its treatment. Current diagnosis is based on biopsies, which are expensive and can lead to complications.

Vets based at the School, teamed up with doctors to look at blood levels of a molecule known as miR-122 in dogs. This molecule is found in high levels in people living with liver disease.  They also worked with pets and their owners to test miR-122 levels in 250 dogs, including cocker-spaniels, labradoodles and Old English sheepdogs.

Dogs with liver disease were found to have significantly higher levels of a miR-122 compared with healthy dogs and dogs who had a different disease that did not affect the liver.

The plan is to launch a testing kit to help vets worldwide to quickly assess if dogs have liver damage.

Lead veterinary researcher, Professor Richard Mellanby, Head of Companion Animal Sciences at The Hospital for Small Animals at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We have found a specific, sensitive and non-invasive way to detect liver damage in dogs. We hope that our test will greatly improve outcomes by allowing vets to make rapid and accurate diagnosis.”

Dr James Dear, Reader at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science and NHS doctor, who co-led the study, said: “'I am delighted that the blood test we developed to improve the diagnosis of liver disease in humans can be used to help dogs too.”


The Internal Medicine Service

The Centre for Cardiovascular Science