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Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

Hepatitis can be expected if a dog experiences an enlarged liver and the death of a large number of liver cells. In today's post, our Charlotte vets discuss hepatitis in dogs, the difference between chronic and acute hepatitis and what the prognosis may be for dogs with this condition.

What is Hepatitis in Dogs?

Hepatitis is the name for inflammation of the liver. Your dog's liver performs a number of vital jobs including processing nutrients, filtering the blood, and fighting infections. When your dog's liver is inflamed or damaged, its function may be affected. 

Your dog's liver cells may begin to die due to damage caused by infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria and even toxins such as poison.

If your dog suffers from an autoimmune disorder it can also cause the body to turn on itself and begin to attack the liver cells causing damage and leading to similar symptoms such as those caused by hepatitis. 

This makes a correct diagnosis from your internal medicine vet in Charlotte of great importance.

Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs, Charlotte Vets

What Types of Hepatitis in Dogs Are Most Common?

While there have been some sporadic cases of bacterial hepatitis seen in dogs, there are two main types that our veterinary internal medicine specialists in Charlotte commonly see: infectious canine hepatitis and canine chronic hepatitis. Chronic is defined as an infection that has been causing damage for at least a few weeks, whereas acute hepatitis can develop very quickly (typically over just a few days).

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

  • Infectious canine hepatitis is the name for Hepatitis C in dogs. Infectious hepatitis is an acute contagious disease in dogs caused by the canine adenovirus 1. The virus targets the infected pet's liver, lungs, kidneys, spleen, the lining of blood vessels and occasionally other organs. Hepatitis C symptoms in dogs can vary widely from slight fever to death.

Canine Chronic Hepatitis

  • Canine chronic hepatitis is a condition that is associated with infectious canine hepatitis. Canine chronic hepatitis may be referred to as autoimmune hepatitis in dogs. Breeds of dogs that are predisposed to the disease include Skye Terriers, Chihuahuas, Springer Spaniels, Beagles, West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Maltese, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Bedlington Terriers, and Standard Poodles.

Chronic vs. Acute Hepatitis in Dogs

Chronic hepatitis in dogs occurs when they have been experiencing the symptoms over a long period of time, while acute is referenced when the condition is still new and has only just been diagnosed. While there are some cases where hepatitis has been cured this is unlikely in most situations. You will need to focus on the quality of life and maintaining ongoing veterinary care for your dog with your Charlotte veterinary internist.

Although chronic hepatitis is most common in senior dogs there are still recorded cases of the condition occurring in dogs that are younger as well. Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to getting certain types of hepatitis. For example, some breeds may develop chronic hepatitis as a result of the accumulation of copper in the cells of the liver. The excessive concentration of copper damages the liver cells and, if left untreated, frequently results in severe chronic hepatitis in dogs.

What Are Some of the Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs?

Dogs often become infected with canine hepatitis by consuming feces, saliva, nasal discharge or urine from infected dogs. Many dog owners don't realize that even if their dog has recovered from the condition they will shed the virus in their urine for at least 6 months, possibly leading to infections in other dogs.

In some cases, dogs can develop severe chronic hepatitis as a result of damage caused by the accumulation of copper in the liver’s cells.

What Hepatitis Symptoms Should I Watch For?

Infectious canine hepatitis can cause a number of symptoms. If your dog has contracted infectious hepatitis you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fluid-filled belly (ascites)
  • Lethargy
  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow, jaundiced look to ears, gums and skin
  • Excessive thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

In severe cases symptoms may include:

  • Red dots on the skin
  • Bruised or reddened nose and mouth
  • Swelling (neck, head, lymph nodes)
  • Seizures
  • Death

Although the disease has become uncommon in areas where routine vaccinations are used, owners must still be vigilant, as the disease can develop quickly in both puppies and dogs.

It is essential to contact your internal medicine vet in Charlotte right away if you notice any symptoms listed above!

How Will The Veterinary Internist Diagnose Hepatitis in my Dog?

Usually, the abrupt onset of the condition and bleeding suggests that infectious canine hepatitis is the culprit, but laboratory tests (including antibody tests, immuno-fluorescence scanning and blood tests) are needed to confirm a diagnosis. Your dog may need blood transfusions if severely ill.

In some cases, routine blood health panels can reveal chronic hepatitis, which may allow for diagnosis before signs develop.

Once your dog begins displaying symptoms of liver disease, it is often in a very late stage. A definitive diagnosis can be made with a liver biopsy, which will determine the severity and type of liver disease that your dog is suffering from.

What Are the Treatment Options For Dogs Suffering From Hepatitis?

Depending on the results of the biopsy and the severity of this disease, your internal medicine vet may recommend treating the disease with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, anti-inflammatory meds or immunosuppressive medication.

Sometimes, a painful spasm can be associated with cornea clouding in the eye. Your veterinarian can prescribe eye ointment to relieve your dog's pain. If your pooch is experiencing corneal clouding, it is essential to protect your pup's eye from bright light.

There may be some cases that require dietary changes and the use of other more specific medications.

Treatment options can range from intravenous fluid therapy to hospitalization. Your dog will require blood work on a regular basis for monitoring purposes.

Unfortunately, hepatitis in dogs is not typically cured and your dog will most likely require ongoing support in order to live a healthy life.

Can Hepatitis in Dogs Be Cured or Managed?

Even after your pup has recovered from the disease, immune-complex reactions can lead to clouding of the cornea of the eye and long-term damage to the kidneys. Though some cases of acute hepatitis can be cured, chronic hepatitis cannot be cured but will need monitoring and treatment from your small animal internal medicine vet so your pup can live a long, good quality life, with minimal clinical signs.

Is There a Way to Prevent Dogs From Developing Hepatitis?

A mandatory vaccine is the most widely used and important preventive measure for infectious canine hepatitis. Your dog will typically receive this vaccine along with their canine distemper vaccinations.

The hepatitis vaccine is given to puppies at about 7 to 9 weeks of age, with the first booster between 11 and 13 weeks, after which they’ll be protected.

To remain protected against this serious condition, your dog will need to keep receiving regular booster shots throughout their lifetime.

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 been diagnosed with hepatitis and requires advanced care contact our veterinary team in Charlotte. Our vets provide advanced diagnoses and treatment for your pets. 

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