Hepatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prognosis

It can be scary to find out that your dog has hepatitis. Today, our Monroe vets discuss the symptoms, treatment, and prognosis for hepatitis in dogs.

Hepatitis in Dogs

Hepatitis is the name for inflammation of the liver. Your dog's liver performs several 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. 

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.

Chronic Canine 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.

Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs

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.

Common Symptoms of Hepatitis in Dogs

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

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

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 vet right away if you notice any symptoms listed above!

Diagnosing Hepatitis in Dogs

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.

Treating Hepatitis in Dogs

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 regularly for monitoring purposes.

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 the 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.

Preventing Hepatitis in Dogs

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. 

Is your dog showing signs of hepatitis or has had a recent diagnosis? Contact our Monroe vets who can diagnose and treat this condition.