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Hepatitis in Dogs- A Pet Parent's Guide

Hepatitis in Dogs- A Pet Parent's Guide

In today's post our Charlotte vets explain the types of hepatitis seen in dogs, the most common symptoms of infectious and chronic hepatitis, as well as prevention and how this serious condition can be treated if your dog has hepatitis.

What is hepatitis?

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. 

What are the most common types of hepatitis in dogs?

While there have been some very rare cases of bacterial hepatitis seen in dogs, there are two main types that our vets 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.

What causes dogs to get hepatitis?

Dogs most 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 are the most common symptoms of hepatitis in dogs?

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:

  • Watery discharge from eyes and nose
  • Congestion
  • Slight fever
  • Deficiency of blood clotting
  • Blindness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thirst
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Yellow, jaundiced look to ears, gums and skin
  • Eye inflammation
  • Severe depression
  • Abdominal pain (occasional)
  • Vomiting (occasional)
  • Bruised or reddened nose and mouth
  • Spontaneous bleeding

In severe cases symptoms may include:

  • Red dots on 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 vet right away if you notice any symptoms listed above!

How is hepatitis in dogs diagnosed?

Usually, 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.

Can dogs with hepatitis be treated?

Depending on the results of the biopsy, your 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.

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

What is the prognosis for hepatitis in dogs?

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 kidneys. Though some cases of acute hepatitis can be cured, chronic hepatitis cannot be cured but will need monitoring and treatment so your pup can live a long, good quality life, with minimal clinical signs.

Can I prevent my dog 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 team of Board Certified Veterinary Specialists in Charlotte! Our specialist vets provide advanced diagnoses and treatment for pets in Charlotte and beyond. 

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