Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs
Chronic hepatitis is a poorly understood, progressive disease characterized by inflammation, irreversible scarring and death of liver tissue. The causes of chronic canine hepatitis are not known. Some people think that a weakened or overactive immune system plays a leading role. Drugs, toxins, cancer or infection may also contribute to chronic hepatitis. Whatever the cause, the damage from this disease affects the entire liver and usually is fatal. The liver has an enormous reserve capacity; up to 75% of liver tissue must be destroyed before the liver will fail. At first, most dogs with chronic hepatitis don’t show signs of disease. Their liver swells and becomes rubbery and firm, as cells die and are replaced by scar tissue. Once most of the liver is destroyed, the dog will start vomiting and have diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, abdominal distention, depression, disorientation, jaundice, poor body condition and pain. The dog’s liver is now partitioned by scar tissue into a mass of firm, irregular nodules, and the damage is irreversible.
“Idiopathic” means of unknown origin, and this disease is often referred to as idiopathic canine hepatitis, because the cause or causes of chronic canine hepatitis are not known. Many experts think that it may have an autoimmune component, which means that a weakened or overactive immune system may play a leading role. The hypothesis is that for some reason, a dog’s immune system is stimulated to make antibodies against its own liver cells, which in
Chronic canine hepatitis is always a progressive disease. However, the liver has an enormous reserve capacity; in fact, up to 70% or 80% of liver tissue must be destroyed before the liver will fail. Most dogs with hepatitis will not feel sick (or at least will not show outward signs of feeling sick, which is really all that we can assess) until a very substantial portion of their liver is destroyed. Once that happens, the
The attending veterinarian will take a complete history from the dog’s owner and will perform a thorough physical examination. The initial data base usually will also include taking a blood sample for submission to a laboratory for a complete blood count and a serum biochemistry profile. The very first clue that a dog may have hepatitis is elevated liver enzymes in the blood. The serum chemistry panel is critical to identifying abnormal levels of circulating
The goals of treating a dog with chronic hepatitis are to stop the progression of the disease, provide excellent nutrition and other support for the liver, remove the inciting cause if it can be identified and keep the dog as comfortable as possible so as to maintain a comfortable, pain-free quality of life. If the dog has acute complications associated with its chronic disease, it may need to be hospitalized. That will enable the veterinary