A dog's liver is a hearty organ, functioning properly even when it's not well. Because of its sizable reserves, it's not unusual to discover liver damage until most of the liver's tissue is destroyed. Hepatitis, which is inflammation, scarring or death of liver tissue, is one of a variety of liver diseases striking dogs.
Types of Canine Hepatitis
A dog's liver is very important to his health because it does so much work; it produces bile to aid digestion, regulates metabolism and helps with energy storage and detoxification. Infectious canine hepatitis, known as ICH or CAV-1, is caused by a virus a dog catches by inhaling or eating the virus present in an infected dog's urine or nasal and eye secretions. Fortunately, vaccinations have made the occurrence of ICH rare in dogs in the US. Chronic active hepatitis, also called chronic canine inflammatory hepatic disease, can strike any dog, regardless of gender, breed or age. A dog with this condition is in liver failure because his liver has been compromised for weeks or months. Chronic hepatitis is also sometimes referred to as idiopathic canine hepatitis because it has no known origin. There is no "congenital canine hepatitis" specifically, but some breeds are prone to copper-associated chronic hepatitis.
Copper-Associated Chronic Hepatitis
Several breeds of dogs have a greater tendency to develop chronic hepatitis. An affected dog accumulates copper in his liver because of the presence of an abnormal binding protein. Since his liver can't excrete the copper, the dog eventually develops hepatitis or cirrhosis of the liver. Affected breeds include West Highland terriers, Bedlington terriers, Doberman pinschers, Labrador retrievers and cocker spaniels.
CACH Differences Among Breeds
Though several breeds are vulnerable to copper-associated chronic hepatitis, it presents differently in those breeds. For example, female Doberman pinschers tend to be affected more than male dobies. In West Highland terriers, the level of copper in the liver accumulates by 6 months of age, and then sometimes declines. Bedlington terriers are prone to two different types of CACH. The first type strikes terriers younger than 6 years old, who suddenly develop liver failure and often pass away quickly. Older Bedlington terriers are prone to the second slower and less severe form of CACH, which makes a dog sick gradually. Veterinarian Ron Hines of 2ndChance.info notes 25 percent of Bedlington terriers suffer from copper-associated chronic hepatitis; half of the remaining 75 percent carry the genetic code for the genetic defect but don't become sick. Though they don't become sick, they can pass the disease to their offspring.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis include loss of appetite and weight loss, sluggishness, vomiting, excessive thirst and urination, yellow tinge to the gums, ears and skin, swollen belly due to fluid buildup and nervous system signs, such as dullness or seizures. The vet will conduct a thorough exam, including a complete blood count, chemical profile and urinalysis. A biopsy of the liver and ultrasound will give more complete information about the liver's condition. A severely ill dog will be hospitalized to receive fluid therapy. Treatment can include medication to decrease fluid buildup, bind copper and block its absorption, and decrease ammonia production. Modifying the diet of a dog with CACH is necessary to minimize the accumulation of copper in the liver. Most commercial dog foods contain higher levels of copper than a dog with CACH can process, so follow doctor's orders when it comes to feeding your dog.