What you need to know about dogs and liver disease - Dr. Marty Becker

What you need to know about dogs and liver disease

Monday, Apr 13th, 2015 | By Dr. Marty Becker


Liver disease is dogs is, to put it mildly, strange. So it’s no wonder many pet owners have questions about it, like this reader who wrote to ask about her dog’s liver disease diagnosis:

Q: My Labrador retriever has been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis. He’s being treated, but do I need to worry that he could pass on the disease to family members or friends? What can you tell me about this disease?

A: First things first: The good news for you is that canine chronic hepatitis is not a disease that can be transmitted to people.

Canine chronic hepatitis is a weird disease. It’s not actually a single disease, but a group of liver diseases, none of which we understand very well. Some forms appear to be autoimmune-related, while others are associated with high levels of copper in the liver. Sometimes, cases are associated with infection or drug toxicity. When the cause is unknown, the disease is referred to as idiopathic chronic hepatitis.

Clinical signs tend to be vague — poor appetite, weakness, yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes — and may not become apparent until the condition is far advanced. Vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and excessive thirst and urination can also be signs of chronic liver disease. Canine chronic hepatitis usually affects middle-aged dogs, male or female, but adults of any age can be affected.

It may also impact certain breeds more commonly, including cocker spaniels, Doberman pinschers, Dalmatians, Labrador retrievers, Skye terriers, standard poodles and West Highland white terriers. In Bedlington terriers, chronic hepatitis is caused by a buildup of copper that eventually damages the liver.

Depending on the apparent cause and stage of the disease, treatment may involve antibiotics, medications to help support the liver, anti-inflammatory drugs or drugs that treat or prevent the buildup of copper in the liver. Your veterinarian may also recommend certain dietary changes or vitamin supplements to help reduce the level of copper in the body or help the body excrete copper more effectively. It’s a good idea to test dogs at high risk for chronic hepatitis early in life.

Read more, including about tick diseases that affect people and pets, in this week’s Pet Connection!