It’s important that veterinary nurse students are familiar with the organs of an animal’s body. By knowing it’s function, students can be more aware of its importance and why certain medications and diets can have a detrimental effect on this extremely important organ.
Visually, the liver appears like a red coloured mass, with the exception of the gall bladder and several other sections attached.
Although the liver looks simple, it is in fact, a very complex organ. It performs over 1000 different tasks, most which are vital for living.
The liver produces albumin – an essential protein, the storage of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, the manufacture of digestive enzymes, detoxification of wastes and the production of blood clotting are just some of its functions.
Diagnosing a diseased or damaged liver can be extremely challenging unless the pet is in total liver failure. This is because the various sections of the liver perform the same tasks. The liver also has the ability to compensate one section over the other. For example, if one section of the liver is diseased or malfunctioning, the other sections will take on the extra load to fulfill the body’s needs.
The liver also has the ability to regenerate and to grow back - and it has been recorded that livers that have been partially removed due to disease have grown back to its normal size within 12 months.
The medium through which the liver carries out its functions is the blood. Twenty percent of the blood pumped by the heart goes through the liver. The first tissue to get the nutrients, which is absorbed by the intestines and stomach, is also the liver, and every blood vessel leaving the gastrointestinal tract goes into the liver.
If glucose gets too low in the blood, it’s the liver that converts it into a storage compound (called glycogen) into glucose and then releases it into the veins leaving the liver.
The Functions of the Liver
Proteins are known as the building blocks of the body. They are the main component of muscle, skin, cell walls, tendons, connective tissue and blood vessels. The components that make up proteins are called amino acids and they are metabolized in the liver.
Metabolism of Carbohydrates and Lipids
Carbohydrates and lipids are the energy stores that control an animal’s body. The storage and release of these are completed within the liver. Everything that is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract arrives at the liver first and very little goes out without being affected in some way. Glucose is extracted immediately from the blood and converted into glycogen, which is stored until needed. Other fatty acids, triglycerides and other various fats are also stored within the liver.
Vitamin Production and Storage
Vitamins, except Vitamin C, are all either made, stored, or regulated by the liver.
Storage of Nutrients
Iron, copper, and zinc are also kept in the liver for future use in the rest of the body. These stored nutrients are carefully monitored because excessive amounts can damage the cells. Another important storage factor of the liver is the amount of blood that this organ can store. The liver can store up to 15% of all blood within the body at any one time. If the animal suddenly loses large quantities of blood, the liver can immediately push a much larger quantity of whole blood with all of its nutrients into general circulation within a matter of seconds.
The liver plays a huge role in the digestive process that occurs within the intestines. Many of the compounds that are produced or excreted by the liver form the bile, which goes from the gallbladder through the bile duct into the small intestine to help the breakdown of food.
The liver breaks down and excretes numerous compounds including the harmful materials from the blood. The liver is also the organ that breaks down some of the sedative and anesthetic agents, antibiotics, and other medications. If the liver fails to eliminate these compounds, the animal will not survive.
The liver could be considered the most vital organ of an animal’s body, with most tasks performed by this organ and this organ alone.
The liver has an amazing ability to regenerate from injury and disease and works 24 hours a day 7 days a week to keep the pet healthy, happy and alive.