Active Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

Active chronic hepatitis is a syndrome in dogs that can have several different causes. The active chronic hepatitis consists of the inflammation of the liver tissues which in time become scar tissue (fibrosis), thus preventing the normal regeneration of the liver. There are some breeds of dogs which are more likely to develop active chronic hepatitis; females and middle-aged dogs are more at risk.

Symptoms of Active Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

The parts of body affected by active chronic hepatitis are not only the liver and the bile but, progressively, the nervous system, the stomach and the intestines. Common symptoms of active chronic hepatitis in dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • The dog loses his appetite, loses weight
  • Vomiting
  • Polydipsia (excessive drinking)
  • Polyuria (urinating in excess)
  • Diarrhea
  • The abdominal cavity becomes filled with fluid (ascites)
  • The dog's skin, gums and tongue get a yellow tinge (jaundice)
  • Tendency to bleed more

Causes of Active Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

The primary causes of active chronic hepatitis are not known. The condition progresses because the immune system starts targeting the liver cells for reasons that can only be guessed and may include:

  • Heredity and breed, as some dog breeds are more prone to developing it than others.
  • Active chronic hepatitis is often associated with copper accumulation in the liver.
  • Drugs such as heartworm medication and anti-convulsants can also be a primary cause for active chronic hepatitis.
  • Less often, fungal, parasitic or bacterial infection are thought to be the triggers of this condition.

Treatment of Active Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

The treatment of active chronic hepatitis in dogs aims to control the disease rather than cure it. The goals of medical treatment are eliminating the suspected causes, dealing with inflammation and other symptoms, and managing the possible complications (bleeding disorders, the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, the ulcerating stomach or infections). Hospitalization will be necessary for more severe cases, until the patient is stabilized.

  • Fluid and electrolyte therapy is performed to fight dehydration due to vomiting.
  • Bile flow is helped with choleretics.
  • Anti-inflammatory treatment through corticosteroids is also given.
  • The water retention in the body is fought with diuretics.
  • To prevent formation of scar tissue (fibrotic tissue) in the liver, the dog can get cholchicine, a drug often used to treat human gout.
  • Protein and sodium restriction are imposed on the dog's diet, sometimes K vitamin supplements are recommended.
  • If an infection is suspected to have triggered the syndrome, antibiotics are prescribed.
  • Copper chelating drugs are prescribed if copper intoxication is suspected to be the cause.

Prognosis for Active Chronic Hepatitis in Dogs

If active chronic hepatitis has been caused by toxicity, the prognosis is fairly good. If the syndrome is immune-mediated, most dogs will have a maximum of 3 years left to live. Either way, the dog will most probably be on medication for the rest of his life, and you will need to take him for periodic examinations and tests.