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Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

If your furry friend has been experiencing long-term inflammation of the liver, they may be diagnosed with hepatitis. Here, our Los Angeles vets discuss the symptoms and causes of chronic hepatitis in dogs, how it is treated and what the life expectancy is for dogs after diagnosis.

What is hepatitis in dogs?

Hepatitis in dogs is classified into two categories, infectious canine hepatitis and canine chronic hepatitis.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis is an acute contagious disease caused by the canine adenovirus 1. This virus attacks the spleen, kidneys, lungs, liver, blood vessel lining, and sometimes other organs. The symptoms can range from a mild fever, thirst, or apathy to death.

Canine Chronic Hepatitis

Some dogs, such as Chihuahuas and standard poodles, appear to be at an increased risk of developing this disease.

When a dog has chronic hepatitis it means that at some point there has been inflammation in their liver and in some cases, necrosis (cell/tissue death). The inflammation is generally caused by a large number of white blood cells making their way to the liver.

The sudden increase in white blood cells is typically caused by infectious agents, such as viruses or bacteria, or as a result of toxic damage. Toxic damage might be caused by poisonous materials or excessive accumulation of substances needed by the body (like copper).

Chronic active hepatitis is the term used when a dog has a long-term inflammatory response attributed to an active, progressive liver disease.

Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

The most commonly noted symptoms seen in dogs with liver disease are:

  • 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

Chronic hepatitis in dogs can be caused by:

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

Diagnosis of Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

To begin, your vet will request 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.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination on your dog, including diagnostic tests like a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count (CBC), an electrolyte panel, and a urinalysis. The bloodwork results will allow your veterinarian to look for signs of impaired kidney function.

In some cases, your vet may use X-ray and ultrasound imaging to visually examine the 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.

Your dog should be fed a low-sodium diet supplemented with thiamine and vitamins several times per day (avoid 2 or 3 large meals). If your dog has lost their appetite and has refused to eat for more than 48 hours, an intravenous feeding tube may be required to provide the nutrition they require to prevent further muscle wasting.

How long can a dog live with chronic hepatitis?

Chronic hepatitis in dogs is incurable, but with continued therapy, many dogs can live comfortably for months or even years. If your dog has chronic hepatitis, it will require regular veterinary checkups to monitor their condition and ongoing treatment so it can live a good quality of life with minimal clinical signs.

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.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of canine chronic hepatitis? Book an appointment with our veterinary team in Los Angeles today.

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