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Hepatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Prognosis & Treatment

Canine infectious hepatitis is a contagious disease that affects several organs. Our Smyrna veterinarians explain the symptoms, prognosis, and other aspects of hepatitis in dogs in this post.

What is hepatitis in dogs?

Hepatitis in dogs is classified into two categories:

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Canine adenovirus 1 causes infectious canine hepatitis, an acute contagious disease. This virus attacks the spleen, kidneys, lungs, liver, blood vessel lining, and occasionally other organs. Symptoms can range from mild fever, thirst, or apathy to death.

Canine Chronic Hepatitis

Canine chronic hepatitis is associated with infectious canine hepatitis. It means that at some point, the liver has become inflamed and necrosis (cell death) has occurred.

Chihuahuas, Springer Spaniels, Beagles, Maltese, West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Bedlington Terriers, Skye Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, and Standard Poodles appear to be predisposed to this disease.

Copper accumulation in the cells of the liver can cause chronic hepatitis in some breeds. An excess of copper can harm the liver's cells and, if untreated, can lead to severe chronic hepatitis.

Chronic means the infection has been damaging cells for some time (at least a few weeks). While acute hepatitis can manifest over just a few days.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis in dogs?

Symptoms of infectious canine hepatitis can include:

  • Slight fever
  • Deficiency of blood clotting
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Congestion of mucous membranes
  • Severe reduction in white blood cells
  • Apathy
  • Thirst
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blindness
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Eye inflammation
  • Vomiting (occasional)
  • Abdominal pain (occasional)
  • Severe depression
  • Watery discharge from eyes and nose
  • Yellow, jaundiced look to skin, gums, and ears
  • Swollen belly filled with fluid (chronic cases)

Severe cases:

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

Canine hepatitis has the highest mortality rate in young dogs. The first symptom is a fever of more than 104°F (40°C), which lasts between 1 and 6 days and usually occurs in two stages. Your veterinarian may notice a low white blood cell count as well as a short fever, which is one sign that your dog has become infected with the condition.

If the fever lasts more than a day, your veterinarian may notice other symptoms such as enlarged tonsils or inflamed eyes. Due to insufficient clotting and a faster heart rate, there may also be severe, spontaneous bleeding.

Though symptoms involving the central nervous system and respiratory system are unusual, brain damage in severely infected dogs can result in seizures. Bleeding in the brain can also result in temporary paralysis.

Though the disease has become less common in areas where routine vaccinations are given, owners must remain vigilant because the disease can develop and progress quickly in both puppies and dogs.

What causes infectious canine hepatitis in dogs?

The most common way for dogs to become infected with canine hepatitis is by consuming infected dogs' nasal discharge, saliva, feces, or urine. Dogs that have recovered from the disease will continue to shed the virus in their urine for at least 6 months.

What is the prognosis of hepatitis in dogs?

After recovering from the disease, dogs may experience immune-complex reactions that can cause corneal clouding and long-term kidney damage. Chronic hepatitis cannot be cured, even though some cases of acute hepatitis can be cured.

Dogs with chronic hepatitis will need monitoring and treatment so they can enjoy a good quality of life and longevity, with minimal clinical signs.

How can I prevent canine hepatitis?

The most widely used and important preventive measure for infectious canine hepatitis is a mandatory vaccine. Your dog will usually receive this in addition to his canine distemper vaccinations (most puppies should start their vaccinations between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks).

Inquire with your veterinarian about how frequently your dog should get hepatitis vaccinations; they must get the right vaccines at the right age. They will most likely require this specific vaccine between the ages of 7 and 9 weeks, with the first booster administered between the ages of 11 and 13 weeks, after which they will be protected.

To remain protected, they’ll need to keep up with booster injections throughout their life - with another at 15 months, then each year to prevent infection.

What is the treatment for hepatitis in dogs?

If you notice any symptoms listed above, contact your vet right away. Typically, sudden onset of the condition and bleeding point to canine hepatitis as the culprit.

To diagnose the disease, however, laboratory tests (such as antibody tests, blood tests, and immunofluorescence scanning) are required. If your dog is critically ill, he or she may require blood transfusions.

Chronic hepatitis in dogs is occasionally discovered during a routine blood health panel, and the disease can be diagnosed before symptoms appear. When your dog begins to show signs of liver disease, the condition has frequently progressed to an advanced stage.

A liver biopsy can be used by your veterinarian to make a definitive diagnosis and determine the severity and type of liver disease.

Depending on the results of the biopsy, your veterinarian may advise you to treat the disease with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, or immunosuppressive medication.

Sometimes, corneal clouding in the eye is associated with painful spasms, in which case your veterinarian may prescribe an eye ointment to relieve the pain. If your dog's cornea is clouded, his eye should be protected from bright light.

Intravenous fluid therapy and hospitalization are two treatment options. Blood tests will be required regularly, and your dog will be monitored.

Have you noticed your dog exhibiting symptoms of infectious or acute canine hepatitis? Our Smyrna veterinarians have extensive experience diagnosing a wide range of conditions and illnesses. Please contact us right away.

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.

Have you noticed symptoms of infectious or acute canine hepatitis in your dog? Contact our Smyrna office today to book an appointment.

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Are you looking for a vet in Smyrna, Georgia? Cumberland Animal Clinic is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about animal healthcare. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

(770) 433-1414