Our loyal canine companions show us true unconditional love and hold a special place in our hearts. Preventing their pain and suffering is essential so that no stone is left unturned to alleviate their discomfort when they get sick.
A dog’s anatomy is not that much different from our own. The liver ensures the proper disposal of toxins, stores energy, produces bile and plays a part in assimilating a wide range of nutrients. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and it can compromise healthy liver function.
Here, we’ll cover what causes hepatitis, how to identify it, and most importantly, how to prevent it in our canine companions.
Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs
When dogs succumb to hepatitis, a liver inflammation, it is called canine hepatitis. Some of the potential causes include:
- Ingestion of a toxin that directly affects the liver
- Long-term use of certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
- Viral hepatitis infection, caused by the adenovirus
Hepatitis in dogs can be transmitted to other dogs but not to humans.
Hepatitis can occur from an inadequate diet, but the most common causes of hepatitis in dogs are viral hepatitis, also known as infectious canine hepatitis, leptospirosis, and canine chronic hepatitis.
Where Your Dog Could Catch Hepatitis
The viral infection of Hepatitis will almost always come from another dog or contaminants left in the environment by other dogs. If your dog is unvaccinated, be careful anywhere they could come into contact with other dogs. These include places like public dog parks, pet-friendly beaches & trails, training classes, agility courses, doggie daycares, or community pet events.
Be sure to have your dog vaccinated before taking them to places like these! Drinking from another dog’s water bowl or playing with another dog’s toy is all it takes to pick up the infection.
And it’s not like you need another reason to keep your dog away from feces and urine, but hepatitis is one of many health conditions that could be caused by contact with it.
Types of Hepatitis in Dogs
- Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) – This form of hepatitis is caused by the virus called adenovirus type 1 and is considered an acute contagious disease among dogs. Acute means the disease is early onset and occurs for only a few days.
- Leptospirosis – Bacteria and not a virus cause this form of hepatitis, and larger breeds of dogs are more commonly affected.
- Canine chronic hepatitis– This type of hepatitis is the same as infectious canine hepatitis, except it has progressed for a more extended period of at least a few weeks.
Canine chronic hepatitis is the most common liver disease in dogs.
Chronic hepatitis in dogs can also be attributed to excessive amounts of copper in the liver’s cells which can cause damage and, if left untreated, lead to severe chronic hepatitis.
Chronic hepatitis in dogs can affect any breed, but some are predisposed to this disease; this list includes Beagles, Chihuahuas, Labrador Retrievers, Maltese, and Doberman Pinschers.
Knowing what to look for regarding the signs of illness in your furbaby is essential in understanding how to treat and care for your precious pup.
Signs & Symptoms of Hepatitis in Dogs
The initial signs of hepatitis in dogs include general weakness, lethargy, depression, excessive thirst, and a loss of appetite. Vomiting may also occur, and in severe cases, a yellow discoloration of the dog’s skin, eyes, and mucus membranes can transpire.
Other significant signs to look for include:
- A slight fever ranging up to a fever greater than 104 degrees F
- Blue or blueish discoloration of the eyes
- Severe reduction in white blood cells
In severe cases, the following signs can also occur:
- Red dots are called blood spots or bruising on the skin.
It is critical to have a veterinarian diagnose any dog suffering from signs or symptoms of hepatitis. Early involvement and diagnosis are vital for successfully treating hepatitis in dogs.
Diagnosing Hepatitis in Dogs
Following a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian, it may be recommended to do blood tests and urinalysis. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test may identify the virus if the vet suspects infectious canine hepatitis.
If the vet suspects canine chronic hepatitis, a biopsy sample may also be done. This procedure uses a sizeable bore-type needle under sedation and ultrasound assistance.
Ultrasonography for Diagnosing Hepatitis in Dogs
Your vet may run a complete ultrasonography to help further diagnose your dog. This procedure allows for screening for other diseases that may be occurring at the same time.
Even with chronic hepatitis, the liver can be found normal upon examination. But, there are some of the changes that can take place viewed more readily on a sonogram.
Cholesystokineses for Diagnosing Hepatitis in Dogs
This procedure requires bile for cytologic evaluation, also performed with ultrasound guidance. You can take steps to help prevent your canine companion from getting hepatitis.
Steps to Prevent Hepatitis in Dogs
One of the best ways to prevent your precious pup from getting hepatitis is through vaccinations.
One of the vaccines is the “distemper-parvo shot” (DAPP/DHPP), which also contains adenovirus inoculation.
Other steps you can take include:
- Limit your dog’s access to potential toxins
- Provide a balanced diet and steer clear of any moldy foods
- If you have a puppy, getting the ICH vaccine can protect them for many months but will decrease in time, so getting regular vaccinations is vital to safeguarding your furbaby.
- Keep young puppies, less than six weeks old, away from other dogs because the disease can spread through urine and feces. If your puppy sniffs these areas, the condition can then be transmitted.
- Don’t allow your puppy to eat or drink out of other dogs’ bowls, as the disease can also be transmitted this way.
- Do not let other dogs lick your puppy because the infection can travel through saliva.
- If you have an older dog and are unsure of its prior vaccination schedule, the initial vaccination should be followed up with a booster in roughly 3 to 4 weeks.
- Vaccinations should continue until the puppy is at least 3 to 4 months old.
- Yearly vaccines should be given to provide continual protection.
Once your dog reaches adulthood, talk to your vet about a vaccination schedule which should include any boosters or revaccinations needed. After the first yearly booster, it is recommended to vaccinate your dog every three years against ICH.
If you have a soon-to-be mother, getting vaccinated before becoming pregnant can ensure that the mother does not transmit the disease to her pup.
If your dog is infected, ensure it does not go to the bathroom in a public area because it can release the infection to other dogs through urine and feces even after it has been treated.
Keep wild animals out of your yard. Wild carnivores such as foxes, coyotes, wolves, and bears can all carry and transmit canine infectious hepatitis.
Finally, make sure everything is clean, especially dog bathroom areas. Before letting your dog roam a site, ensure there are no other feces to help diminish the chance of the disease spreading.
What Kinds of Dogs are Most at Risk?
Unvaccinated dogs are at the greatest risk of contracting canine hepatitis, but there are other risk factors to consider. Young puppies and very old dogs are more susceptible to the hepatitis virus, and it can have a greater impact on their health.
Dogs with immune systems weakened by other factors are also at particular risk. Illness, poor nutrition, stress, lack of exercise, parasitic infections, and certain medications can all inhibit a dog’s immune system.
Genetic factors can affect a dog’s immune system and its predisposition for hepatitis. These breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Bedlington Terriers, Skye Terriers, and West Highland White Terriers.
Keep Hepatitis From Spreading Among Dogs
Because hepatitis is caused by a virus, it’s communicable. Your pup can pick it up from other dogs. If you have multiple dogs and one is affected, or they may come in contact with another dog that has hepatitis, it’s important to take a few steps.
- Vaccinate or check vaccination records. It’s best to consult with a veterinarian and possibly schedule a booster shot for dogs you think may come into contact with another affected dog.
- Isolate any infected dogs. Keep uninfected dogs away from dogs infected with hepatitis. Keep both dogs secured in a separate area.
- Quarantine any new dogs you bring in to check for signs of illness before introducing them to your other dogs.
Separate or Sanitize Vectors of Contamination
Hepatitis can spread through direct contact with other dogs or through the environment. Clean water bowls, toys, blankets, and anything that an affected dog has contacted before allowing their access to other dogs. Be sure to use an antiviral cleaning solution.
Treatment for Hepatitis in Dogs
Although there is no known treatment for hepatitis in dogs because antibiotics are not effective, the treatment for hepatitis in dogs includes supportive care. Supportive care sustains adequate fluid balance and proper nutrition while reducing symptoms and allowing enough time for the immune system to respond.
Keeping your dog’s immune system in solid condition can be highly beneficial because it helps it recover. Ensuring you include natural sources to help supplement their diet can help further enhance their immune system.
Talk to your vet about combining both natural and conventional forms of treatment, some of which include the following:
- Antioxidant Therapy – In dogs with chronic hepatitis, combining antioxidant therapy with standard treatment is recommended to reduce liver injury and fibrosis.
- Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, has been shown to decrease in dogs with inflammatory issues such as hepatitis.
- The addition of antioxidants does not guarantee recovery but can help strengthen the dog’s natural immune system.
- Anticopper Therapy – If your dog’s hepatitis is due to excessive copper, a disease characterized by centrilobular hepatic copper accumulation. This therapy is used mainly in primary or secondary excess copper accumulation cases.
- Immunosuppressive Therapy – Combining corticosteroids with prednisone is a common immunosuppressive medication. This therapy has been shown to improve the cell changes that occur with hepatitis, induce remission, and prolong survival.
- Protein Restriction – If your vet feels protein restriction is required, they may suggest taking a moderate amount of protein through a prescription renal diet. Diets may also include higher-quality protein such as egg whites.
A low-protein diet allows the liver to recover. When proteins are broken down during digestion, the byproduct is ammonia. So, when you reduce the total amount of protein ingested, particularly animal proteins, there can be excellent results.
If your dog’s immune system doesn’t destroy the virus, it can spread to the liver, where it can reproduce. It can also travel to the kidneys and pass in the urine for approximately 6 to 9 months if the body doesn’t eliminate the virus.
Your furry family member can have a better long-term prognosis with proper treatment.
Prognosis of Hepatitis in Dogs
Very young dogs have the highest mortality rate for canine hepatitis. With chronic hepatitis, the prognosis can vary, so early diagnosis and treatment are paramount in recovery.
After recovery from this disease, immune-complex reactions may cause a cloudy appearance in the eye’s cornea which could lead to long-term kidney damage. Supportive care through nutrition and vitamin supplementation should be discussed with your veterinarian to help restore the liver’s antioxidant status. Immunosuppressive drugs are used after careful consideration, including Prednisone.
There are some cases of acute hepatitis being cured, but chronic hepatitis can not be cured. Therefore, dogs with chronic hepatitis must be monitored and treated to ensure the dog will have longevity and the best quality of life.
Keeping your family furbaby as healthy as possible is essential to their well-being and longevity. By taking special precautions and looking for potential signs and symptoms, you can do your part in helping to keep your pup happy and healthy.