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Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

If your dog experiences symptoms related to an inflamed liver for more than six weeks, chronic hepatitis could be the cause. Below, our Berkeley vets share some of the causes and symptoms of canine chronic hepatitis in dogs.

Dogs & Hepatitis

Hepatitis affects the vitally important functioning of your dog's liver and is classified into two categories - infectious canine hepatitis which is acute and develops over a number of days and canine chronic hepatitis which typically takes weeks to develop into a symptomatic condition.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis is an acute contagious disease caused by the canine adenovirus 1. This virus targets the spleen, kidneys, lungs, liver, lining of blood vessels and sometimes other organs. Symptoms can vary widely - from slight fever, thirst or apathy to death.

Canine Chronic Hepatitis

Canine chronic hepatitis is associated with infectious canine hepatitis. At some point, the dog's liver has become inflamed and necrosis (cell death) has occurred.

Some of the dog breeds that appear to face an increased risk of developing this disease include Chihuahuas, Springer Spaniels, Beagles, Maltese, West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Bedlington Terriers, Skye Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, and Standard Poodles.

An accumulation of copper in the liver’s cells can result in chronic hepatitis for some breeds. This excessive amount of copper can damage the liver’s cells and often leads to severe chronic hepatitis if left untreated.

The label 'chronic' is an indication that the infection has been damaging cells for some time (at least a few weeks). While acute hepatitis can manifest over just a few days.

Signs of Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

Symptoms of hepatitis in dogs can include:

  • Sluggishness and lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures, mental dullness
  • Increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Yellowish gums and moist tissues
  • Abdominal fluid buildup
  • Poor body condition

Causes of Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

Dogs can develop chronic hepatitis due to a number of causes including:

  • Exposure to toxins
  • Infectious disease
  • Immune-mediated disease
  • Copper-storage disease
  • Environmental 
  • Drug related damage to liver

Diagnosis of Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

Your vet will begin by having you give a detailed history of your dog's health leading up to the onset of symptoms. Any information you can provide your veterinarian about your dog's genetic background and parentage will also be helpful.

A thorough physical examination of your dog, including a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count (CBC), an electrolyte panel, and a urinalysis will likely be the next step. The bloodwork results will allow your veterinarian to look for indications of impaired kidney function.

Every case, and each vet, is different but your vet may use X-ray and ultrasound imaging to visually examine your pup's liver, or take a tissue sample for biopsy.

Treating Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

Hospitalization will be necessary in severe cases so that your pup can be given fluid therapy supplemented with B vitamins, potassium and dextrose.

Restricted activity will also be necessary during the treatment and recovery phase. Your vet may or may not recommend complete cage rest depending on your dog's specific case. Be sure to keep your dog warm while they are inactive during their recovery period.

Medications may be prescribed by your vet to increase the elimination of fluids from the body, helping to decrease fluid build-up in the abdomen. Medications may also be necessary to treat infection, decrease brain swelling, control seizures, and decrease ammonia production and absorption.

A sodium-restricted diet, and supplemented with thiamine and vitamins should be served to your dog in several small meals a day (avoid 2 or 3 large meals). If your dog has lost their appetite and refuses to eat for more than 48 hours an intravenous feeding tube may be necessary to get your pet the nutrition they need to prevent further muscle wasting.

Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs - Life Expectancy

Chronic hepatitis in dogs cannot be cured but many dogs can live comfortably for months or even years with continued therapy. If your canine companion has been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis they will need regular veterinary checkups to monitor their condition and ongoing treatment so they can enjoy a good quality of life, with minimal symptoms.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog has symptoms of hepatitis it's time to head to the vet! Contact our Berkeley vets to book an urgent examination for your dog.

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