Liver isn’t the most popular of meats, but many nutritionists rave about how healthy it can be.
Even canine nutritionists mention how organ meats are like the multivitamin of the dog world, but is liver counted amongst these nutritious organ meats and can dogs eat liver?
Yes, dogs can eat liver, it can make a tasty meaty treat to top up the protein and vitamins in your dog’s diet. Most dogs love the taste of liver, whether it’s chopped up and baked for a homemade treat, or used to flavour their dog food.
But what kinds of liver can dogs eat, and can dogs eat liver raw?
Yes, dogs can eat raw liver but feeding raw meat and organ meats to dogs is still a point of debate with vets. Healthy adult dogs can usually eat some raw liver without issues, but it isn’t always safe for a dog to eat raw liver.
If your pooch isn’t used to raw foods, suddenly eating some could cause them digestive upset, so it’s best to introduce raw liver to your dog slowly and in small pieces under supervision. Raw feeding can be a great method of feeding, but it doesn’t suit every dog or every owner.
Plus, if your dog has never eaten raw meat or organ meat before, they might not find it very appetising. Some dogs love raw liver, while others turn their nose up at it.
That being said, the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages feeding raw meat and organ meat due to the risk of pathogens. That doesn’t necessarily mean the meat must be cooked before your pooch eats it, just that any harmful pathogens must be eliminated in some way, be it cooking, freezing, or air-drying the food.
Yes, dogs can eat chicken liver, and it’s one of the best meat sources that they can eat. It’s lower in calories and higher in protein than other kinds of liver, and when compared to pork or lamb liver, chicken is far more nutritionally dense. Chicken liver is also surprisingly rich in vitamin C and E, perfect for boosting your pup’s health and supporting their immune system.
Chicken liver is a little lower in vitamins when compared to beef liver, but then again beef liver is fattier and has less iron. However, chicken liver still has more than enough of all the vitamins and minerals usually found in liver and is still super nutritious for your pooch. Plus, it does have more vitamin C, selenium, and iron than beef liver.
Dogs can eat lamb liver - it’s lower in fat than chicken liver, whilst still being a great source of various vitamins and minerals. It isn’t as nutritious as chicken liver though, containing much smaller amounts of the nutrients found in liver meat.
Beef liver has a ridiculous amount of vitamins, containing several days’ worth of a human’s recommended daily allowance, never mind a dog’s much smaller requirements! There’s also a ton of vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin A, and copper. However, when feeding your dog liver you might want to opt for chicken liver because it contains less vitamin A - we’ll discuss why below.
Pork liver has less fat and cholesterol than chicken liver, but it’s also much lower in nutrients too. Your dog can eat pork liver, but it’s advised that portions are kept small and always cooked before serving due to the risk of trichinosis.
Dogs should not eat pâté. Even though liver is the main ingredient, pâté isn’t healthy for dogs and it’s very fatty and salty. It also often contains onion, garlic and nutmeg, all of which are considered toxic to dogs.
Again, liver sausage might be mostly made from pork and liver, but it’s not good for dogs. It’s not as fatty or salty as pâté, but there’s still too much in there for it to be a healthy snack for Fido. Also, there are a number of spices in liver sausage that can be irritating or even toxic to your dog, such as garlic and mustard.
We all know meat is a great source of protein and essential fatty acids that your dog needs for healthy growth and tissues like skin and muscle. However, organ meats like liver also tend to have much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than muscle meat. In fact, liver is so packed with nutrients that even a small chunk can provide well over the RDA of certain minerals for us humans, never mind dogs who require far smaller amounts of these nutrients.
Regardless of the animal it has come from, liver is a rich source of vitamins A, B vitamins (B2, B9, and B12), as well as minerals like iron, copper, and choline.
Vitamin A is essential for dogs to maintain healthy vision, but it’s also important for healthy growth. Overall it helps to maintain healthy eyes, fur, skin, muscles and reproductive organs. Plus it has antioxidant properties so it can help to protect your pooch from cancer.
The cocktail of B vitamins in liver includes B12 and B9 which is important for a healthy brain and for the creation of red blood cells. Riboflavin (B2) is also necessary for healthy muscles, fur and growth. Meanwhile, choline is used in various chemicals within the nervous system and is vital for good cognitive health.
As for minerals, iron is vital for preventing anaemia and ensuring your dog’s red blood cells can carry oxygen around their body. The iron found in liver meat is also the easiest kind for the body to absorb. Meanwhile, copper is needed for healthy bones and connective tissue, and it has antioxidant properties too.
That isn’t all that liver has to offer. This meat is one of the most nutritionally dense foods you or your dog could eat. However, because it’s so rich in vitamins and minerals, your dog only needs a very small amount in their diet to benefit from it.
Liver is loaded with vitamin A which is one of the most essential vitamins a dog needs from their diet. But, you can have too much of a good thing. You must make sure your dog doesn’t eat too much vitamin A because it is toxic in excess. Vitamin A toxicity, known as “Hypervitaminosis A”, can be life-threatening so it’s important that you only feed your dog liver in moderation, even though it’s super healthy.
If your dog has low blood pressure or kidney disease then they shouldn’t eat liver because it’s very rich in phosphorus. This mineral is great for most dogs but it does lower blood pressure, and too much phosphorous can advance the progression of kidney disease in dogs. Liver is also rich in copper so it’s not suitable for all dogs to snack on, particularly those with liver disease.
It’s always best to check with your vet if liver is a suitable snack for your pooch and their individual needs. Especially if they have any underlying health conditions, as you may unknowingly exacerbate their illness.
It’s recommended that dogs don’t eat more than an ounce of liver a day, which is about 28g. That’s a catch-all guideline though and isn’t appropriate for every dog, so you should always check with your vet how much liver is safe for your pooch to munch based on their size and health.
In terms of liver treats, a little dog should have no more than 2 treats per week and a bigger dog can have 2 to 4 a week. Giant breeds can have up to 5 or 6 liver treats per week. You can make your own healthy liver treats by cutting up little bits of liver and baking it in the oven until it’s dry and chewy.
The problem is that these rules don’t pay much attention to the amount of vitamin A that’s already in your dog’s diet. If your dog is eating nutritionally balanced dog food then they won’t need lots of liver to provide vitamin A. (Unlike raw-fed dogs who often rely on it as their main source of the vitamin.)
The best thing to do is to work out how much vitamin A is already in your dog’s diet, and then how much liver they can safely eat according to the amount of vitamin A found in the liver meat. That way you can be sure there isn’t any risk of toxicity and your pooch can still enjoy a tasty liver treat according to their individual needs.
Liver is perfectly safe for dogs to eat and is packed full of nutrients that can benefit your dog’s health and wellbeing. Many dogs also love the flavour of liver, so they really enjoy slithers of liver as a treat, or you can use it to flavour any homemade goodies you make for your furry friend.
If in doubt however, it's best to avoid. Your pooch can still get all the nutritional benefits of liver if they're eating a complete and balanced dinner on the daily. For example, Pure is packed with vitamins and minerals to keep your dog in tiptop shape, alongside protein, fruit and veg to make it a delicious dinner that's super healthy too!
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.