Dog: Hepatitis

General information

Other common/scientific names: liver disease

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. It is located just behind the diaphragm underneath the ribs and consists of four major lobes or sections. The liver plays a key role in many metabolic processes such as carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. The liver also acts as a site for biotransformation, detoxification and excretion of drugs, toxins, hormones and metabolites. It stores iron and vitamins. The liver is the site for blood storage, clotting agent production and it filters toxins from the blood.

Hepatitis is defined as inflammation of the liver and is the term commonly used when referring to liver injury, insufficiency or disease. Chronic active hepatitis is chronic, progressive inflammation of the liver which leads to scar tissue or liver cirrhosis. Liver failure occurs when 60-80% of the liver mass is permanently lost due to liver disease.

Abb. GMHW6TW3: Schematic illustration of the canine gastrointestinal system showing the position of the liver.



Viral and bacterial infections which cause hepatitis can be spread from dog to dog through fecal material, saliva and urine.

Cardinal symptom


Clinical signs of hepatitis include anorexia, vomiting and lethargy. Jaundice (yellow color to skin and mucous membranes), bleeding problems and fluid in the abdomen are seen in the later stages of hepatitis. Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a neurologic syndrome associated with severe hepatic insufficiency. Symptoms include depression, seizures and coma.

Abb. GG3UCHPW: Jaundice.
This is a photograph of the oral mucosa (gum) of a dog with jaundice. Note the severe, yellow discoloring.


Diagnosis of hepatitis is from physical examination and laboratory tests. A complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry and urinalysis are performed on any dog suspected of hepatitis. Liver enzymes will be elevated in these cases. Other liver specific blood tests may be needed for diagnosis. Radiography and ultrasonography are used to assess liver size and shape and also evaluate other abdominal organs. A fine needle aspirate or biopsy may be needed to obtain a liver sample to identify the type of cells in the liver.


The goal when treating hepatitis is to eliminate the cause and decrease the inflammation enabling the liver to heal. Mild cases of hepatitis can be treated with antibiotics (if indicated), anti-inflammatories and diet. More severe cases will require hospitalization and intravenous fluids. Other medications and supplements used in hepatitis include those that enhance blood supply to the liver, prevent scarring, treat nausea, prevent bleeding and prevent gastrointestinal ulceration.

Dogs with liver disease should be fed a reduced level of high quality protein. A specially formulated, prescription diet can be purchased from your veterinarian.


If the cause can be identified and eliminated and treatment is started early in the disease, the prognosis is good. The liver has the ability to regenerate; therefore, a dog may recover liver function if given supportive treatment while the liver heals. However, chronic cases of hepatitis can result in permanent scarring to the liver and carry a poorer prognosis.


Puppies should be vaccinated for infectious hepatitis beginning at 6 to 8 weeks of age and boostered every 2 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. After the initial puppy series, an annual vaccine is recommended. Subsequent vaccination boosters are given every 1 to 3 years depending on your veterinarian’s recommendation. Canine hepatitis vaccination is most commonly included in a combined vaccine with canine parvovirus, canine parainfluenza, canine distemper, Leptospirosis and coronavirus.

Click here for more information on canine vaccinations.


When changing to a prescription diet, mix a small amount of the new diet with the normal diet. Gradually increase the amount of the new diet over 7-10 days. If your dog does not want to eat the prescription diet, the food can be moistened with a low salt beef or chicken broth. A small amount of garlic can be added to the food to enhance the flavor. Canned food can be heated slightly to encourage consumption.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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The information offered by enpevet Ltd. is intended solely for information purposes and and does under no circumstances replace a personal consultation, examination or diagnosis through a veterinarian. Thus, the information serves as an addition to the dialogue between pet owner and veterinarian, but can never replace the visit to the veterinarian. enpevet® would like to ask all users, whose animals have health concerns, to see a veterinarian as required. If you have any questions regarding the health of your animal, we recommend that you turn to your trusted veterinarian , instead of starting, changing or breaking off treatments on your own. The content of enpevet® cannot and should not be used for making your own diagnoses or for the selection and application of treatment methods.