Chronic Liver Disease in Dogs

Chronic Liver Disease in DogsChronic hepatitis is a form of inflammatory liver disease that occurs in dogs. There are multiple potential underlying causes, such as infection, breed predisposition, drug-induced, copper toxicity, or idiopathic. The term idiopathic is used when the underlying cause is unknown. Some of the more common breeds with an increased frequency of chronic hepatitis include the Bedlington Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Doberman Pinscher, West Highland White Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, and Dalmatian. Female dogs might be at a higher risk then males to develop chronic hepatitis, but this has not been proven. Dogs are often young to middle aged when they develop chronic hepatitis.

The clinical signs of chronic hepatitis vary with the severity. In the early stages a dog might have a slightly decreased appetite, gradually lose weight, and have a decreased energy level. These clinical signs can be subtle and often times go unnoticed. As the liver disease progresses, the clinical signs will often become apparent. A noticeable reduction in appetite, vomiting, lethargy, jaundice, and abdominal swelling are some of the signs that can occur.

If you suspect your dog has chronic hepatitis it is recommended that your dog be seen by aChronic Liver Disease in Dogs and Mushrooms veterinarian. Your veterinarian will need to start with a detailed history of what medications and possible toxins your dog has been exposed to. Certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or toxins, such as mushrooms, can cause liver disease. Along with a detailed history of things your dog has been exposed to, it is also important to let your veterinarian know how your dog has been doing. Loss of appetite, vomiting, and other abnormal clinical signs can help your veterinarian better understand your dog’s current medical condition.

After your veterinarian takes a detailed history they will need to perform a physical examination. During the examination, your veterinarian can assess your dog’s overall body condition and hydration status, look for signs of anemia or jaundice, feel for enlargement of the liver and fluid in the abdomen, and check for fever. Laboratory blood tests can be performed to evaluate for liver disease and function. If your veterinarian finds evidence of liver disease then it is advisable to perform an abdominal ultrasound to further assess the liver size and appearance. Ultimately a biopsy of the liver will need to be performed to diagnose chronic hepatitis. If there is evidence of a liver tumor, abscess, or gallbladder disease then a biopsy might not be warranted.

There are medical treatments for chronic hepatitis. Unless your dog has evidence of end-staged liver disease, the liver can repair itself with the appropriate medical and dietary support. With resolution of chronic hepatitis your dog can return to feeling and acting normal.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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