At its most basic, hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, the first organ in your pup's body that comes in contact with toxins. Occasionally, a dog will contract the canine adenovirus, CAV-1, causing hepatitis. Fortunately, infectious hepatitis is rare in dogs, thanks to vaccinations. However, Buddy can still contract non-infectious hepatitis.
Buddy's liver plays a vital role in his health. This important organ filters toxins and has a significant role in energy storage and regulating metabolism. It also helps in the digestive process by producing bile. A dog's liver has a large reserve capacity, meaning it's usually severely damaged before you see any signs of problems.
Chronic hepatitis, also known as chronic active hepatitis -- CAH -- or chronic canine inflammatory hepatic disease, occurs when a dog's liver becomes inflamed. As the disease progresses, the liver is irreversibly scarred, eventually causing the death of the liver's tissues. The condition is poorly understood and the cause is unknown, or idiopathic. Most dogs suffering from CAH are middle-aged or older, though a dog of any age is vulnerable. Liver disease is chronic if the condition has been present for weeks or months; acute hepatitis is inflammation that lasts a few days. A dog with CAH is in liver failure.
Unlike infectious hepatitis, where the cause of the disease is known and preventable, chronic hepatitis has a variety of potential contributors, but no known specific cause. Toxins, cancer, infection and drugs are suspected to play a role in the development of the disease. Buddy's large liver reserve means up to three-quarters of its tissue must be destroyed before it fails. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms of CAH are seen, the disease has usually progressed to the point where the liver has been irreversibly damaged.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Because the liver performs so many functions, there are many potential symptoms of CAH. Common signs include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy. Buddy may drink and urinate more, have a distended belly, experience pain or tenderness in his abdomen and have a jaundiced appearance to his skin, ears, gums and the whites of his eyes. Neurological signs, such as seizures, poor coordination, depression and disorientation are occasionally present. If the vet suspects Buddy has liver problems, he'll confirm the diagnosis with blood tests, X-rays and perhaps, abdominal ultrasound. Imaging may show a small liver, which is normal for a dog with CAH. Some vets prefer to definitively confirm CAH via a surgically performed liver biopsy, which provides information about the type and severity of liver disease, as well as prognosis and treatment options.
Acute hepatitis has a greater chance of full recovery than CAH. Since CAH is "active," it means cells are continually dying, which means there's a poor prognosis. If Buddy has been diagnosed with CAH, the treatment goal will be to stop the disease's progress, ensure he has excellent nutrition and other support for his liver, and keep him as comfortable as possible to give him a good, pain-free quality of life. If the cause of the liver dysfunction can be determined, it will be addressed. A dog with acute complications may need hospitalization for fluid therapy and transfusions. If Buddy's stomach is affected, he may require medication to sooth his stomach lining.
By Betty Lewis
About the Author
Betty Lewis has been writing professionally since 2000, specializing in animal care and issues, business analysis and homeland security. Lewis holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University as well as master’s degrees from Old Dominion University and Tulane University.