Symptoms of Hepatitis in Dogs

No dog owner ever wants to see their furry companion suffering. Unfortunately, dogs can contract many of the same illnesses as humans, including Hepatitis. This article will provide an in-depth look at what canine hepatitis is, how it affects your dog, and potential treatment options to follow.

What Is Hepatitis in Dogs?

Hepatitis is a medical condition that’s characterized by ongoing liver inflammation in dogs. It’s connected to an accumulation of inflammatory cells in the liver in conjunction with progressive scarring or the emergence of excessive fibrous tissue in the liver. Collectively, these developments can lead to decreased functioning of the liver, which can become quite serious over time.

What Causes Hepatitis in Dogs?

Hepatitis can be caused by canine bacterial infections, ingestion of toxic substances, liver cancer, gallstones or cysts, and canine endocrine diseases (such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease). Another cause of hepatitis is inherited copper-storage disease of the liver. This disease only occurs in certain dog breeds and the average age of onset varies considerably. Unfortunately, some breeds carry a genetic predisposition which significantly increases their chances of developing hepatitis.

How is the Liver Affected?

The liver is a remarkably important organ that performs a variety of key tasks. It produces enzymes that support digestion and metabolizes proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It also stores essential vitamins and nutrients, breaks down toxins and eliminates waste from the body. Because of the liver’s large reserve capacity, if one portion of the liver stops working, another can take over. It’s even powerful enough to regenerate its own tissue under the right circumstances. However, hepatitis is serious enough to break down the liver over time, rendering it less and less effective. Due to the multiple functions of the liver, dogs with hepatitis may exhibit a wide array of symptoms.

Hepatitis in Dogs Symptoms

Below is a list of common symptoms of hepatitis in dogs along with a brief description of each:

  • Decreased appetite: With key functions of the liver such as digestion and metabolizing proteins, fats, and carbs affected, it’s common for dogs to lose their appetite.
  • Lethargy: With less food coming in, canine lethargy will result from lack of nutrients.
  • Weight loss: Another byproduct of decreased appetite is weight loss in dogs. If you notice your pup’s weight dropping quickly, it’s important to take him to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea: Signs of vomiting and diarrhea in dogs typically occur early and are some of the first indicators you may notice. Because the liver is less effective, and in some cases incapable of performing the aforementioned key tasks, vomiting and diarrhea ensue.
  • Frequent urination and excessive thirst: Vomiting and diarrhea combined with a decrease in appetite also contribute to excessive thirst. It’s not uncommon for dogs to ingest far more liquid than normal. Naturally, this leads to frequent urination. It’s important to keep a keen eye on your pup’s fluid intake as this can be another tell-tale sign something isn’t right.
  • Swelling of the abdomen: Abdominal swelling results from enlargement of the liver along with fluid build up in the abdomen.
  • Jaundice: As the disease progresses, it can cause canine jaundice, which results in the gums, eyes, and even skin turning a yellowish color. This is often one of the tell-tale signs of hepatitis in dogs.
  • Neurologic and nervous system signs: These symptoms tend to be exhibited if the disease has progressed. Neurologic symptoms such as disorientation, canine depression, aggression and even blindness can occur. Nervous system signs such as canine seizures and coma, though less common, have been known to occur in some cases as well.

If you suspect your pup is exhibiting some of these common signs and symptoms, it’s important to schedule a consultation with your veterinarian. It’s common for vets to initiate a blood test and urinalysis to determine the overall health of your dog’s liver. Ultrasounds also assist in diagnosing the size of the liver and identification of any cysts, gallstones, or the presence of cancer cells. Finally, a liver biopsy may be called for to provide a conclusive diagnosis of hepatitis. Vets may prescribe antibiotics and other medications to control symptoms. It’s also common for them to begin fluid therapy to help prevent dehydration.

The scope of veterinary-prescribed treatment tends to primarily focus on symptom management, thus the recommended course of action may vary from dog to dog. If your dog has been diagnosed with acute hepatitis, he may recover quickly. However, nearly one out of three dogs with acute hepatitis will ultimately develop chronic hepatitis. Often times, signs of chronic hepatitis may take a while to show, which is why veterinarians commonly recommend scheduling a liver biopsy around four to six weeks after being diagnosed with acute hepatitis. It’s highly unlikely chronic hepatitis will ever be “cured.” Unfortunately, more often than not dogs are diagnosed after the disease has progressed. This is why it’s imperative the symptoms are quickly recognized and a diagnosis is made early on. If this occurs, treatment can begin early thus providing the greatest chance of a positive outlook.


  1. “Liver Inflammation (Chronic) in Dogs.” PetMD,
  2. “Protect Your Dog From Hepatitis.” The Spruce Pets,
  3. “Hepatitis in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment.”,



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