Hepatitis in dogs: Key steps to prevention and managing health

16 November 2023 - 5 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Kirsten Ronngren DVM MRCVS on 3 November 2023 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

Dog at the vet

Can dogs get hepatitis? Yup.

But what exactly does hepatitis in dogs entail? And how can we, as dog parents, navigate the types, treatment options, and dizzying array of prescription foods?

Let's get into the details about hepatitis in dogs so we can take steps to ensure our pups live their happiest, healthiest lives—even if that includes a chronic hepatitis diagnosis.

Causes of hepatitis in dogs and how dogs get hepatitis

Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver and can be caused by various factors. Here are some primary causes of hepatitis in dogs and notes worth remembering.

Hepatitis terms Potential trigger Worth noting
Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) Canine Adenovirus-1 (CAV-1) This form of hepatitis is contagious and can spread rapidly among dogs
Chronic hepatitis Long-term inflammation of the liver This can be due to autoimmune diseases, copper storage disease, and certain toxins
Copper storage hepatopathy Abnormal accumulation of copper in the liver This is more commonly seen in certain breeds, like Bedlington Terriers and West Highland White Terriers
Autoimmune hepatitis A malfunction in your dog's immune system Also known as idiopathic chronic hepatitis, the dog's immune system attacks the liver cells
Toxic hepatitis Toxic substances Common toxins include certain plants, foods, and chemicals that result in liver inflammation
Drug-induced hepatitis Certain medications Certain medications can be harsh on the liver and lead to inflammation or other liver issues
Leptospirosis-associated hepatitis Bacterial infections Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can lead to liver inflammation while also affecting other organs

Hepatitis symptoms in dogs

Hepatitis in dogs can manifest through a variety of symptoms as the liver struggles to function properly. Here are some common signs that your dog may be experiencing liver trouble.

  • Lethargy: Your dog might seem less energetic or interested in activities they usually enjoy.

  • Loss of appetite: They may eat less or show no interest in food.

  • Jaundice: a yellowing of the skin and eyes due to a buildup of bilirubin in the tissue that isn't broken down appropriately by the liver.

  • Increased thirst: Your dog might drink water more frequently.

  • Tender abdomen: Their belly might be tender to touch.

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea: Your dog may experience vomiting or loose stools.

As the disease advances, it could lead to a severe condition known as hepatic encephalopathy. This occurs when the liver isn't able to properly detoxify the body, leading to neurologic symptoms such as confusion and disorientation in dogs.

It’s crucial to seek veterinary care if you notice any of these symptoms in your pet to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

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How to protect your dog from hepatitis

You can't realistically prevent every cause of hepatitis, but you can support a healthy liver in your dog. Here are a few ways to do that.

Get your dog vaccinated

While some types of hepatitis are tough to protect against, the core defence against a few common forms of infectious canine hepatitis is vaccination.

Vaccines containing Canine Adenovirus-2 (CAV-2) have been shown to offer protection against the menacing Canine Adenovirus-1 (CAV-1), the primary culprit behind infectious canine hepatitis.

These vaccines are typically administered as part of a dog's regular vaccination schedule, which begins when they are puppies. Follow the vaccination schedule your vet recommends.

Don't skip vet checkups

Regular vet visits are pivotal in catching any potential issues early on.

Through routine check-ups, your vet can monitor your dog’s liver function and overall health, catching any budding problems before they blossom into major health crises.

Feed your pup a healthy, balanced diet

A balanced diet can work wonders for supporting your dog’s health. Special hepatic dog food formulated to support liver function can be a wise choice for breeds with liver issues. Additionally, a diet low in copper may be beneficial for some dogs, as copper accumulation in the liver can lead to chronic hepatitis. Always ask your vet for advice before changing up your pup's diet.

Identify and limit exposure to toxins

The liver is a detoxifying powerhouse, and exposure to toxins can overwhelm it, leading to inflammation and hepatitis. Be mindful of your dog’s environment, ensuring it's free from harmful substances such as certain plants, foods, and chemicals.

Mindfully manage medications

Some medications can be tough on the liver. If your dog requires one of these medications, your vet may want to check that your dog’s liver seems to be doing its job with blood testing. If the values are within the normal range, it is much less likely to be a problem. If those values are abnormal, your vet will want to dig deeper to ensure there is no underlying issue and may choose a different, more liver-friendly medication.

Keep up on hydration and exercise

Keeping your dog well-hydrated and ensuring they get plenty of exercise can also contribute to overall health. A hydrated body and well-exercised muscles can help maintain a healthy metabolism and liver function.

With a blend of vaccinations, regular vet visits, a balanced diet, and a toxin-free environment, you can help build a robust shield against hepatitis for your dog.

But remember, we do our best for our pups, but nothing is guaranteed. Some dogs may develop an autoimmune version of hepatitis, and the best thing you can do is work with your vet on a treatment plan. Focus on what you can manage.

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What's the life expectancy for dogs with hepatitis?

The life expectancy of dogs with hepatitis largely hinges on the underlying cause, early detection, effective treatment, and a supportive environment.

That said, here’s how the prognosis can vary between infectious and chronic versions of hepatitis.

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH):

Infectious canine hepatitis is a formidable adversary in a dog's health journey. Impacted dogs may encounter permanent liver damage, casting a long shadow on their overall lifespan. The silver lining here is the pivotal role of veterinary care. A veterinarian will steer the treatment and monitoring regimen, tailoring it to the dog's unique health profile and giving them the best shot at a quality life post-recovery.

Chronic hepatitis:

Unlike its infectious counterpart, chronic hepatitis is often a long-term management scenario rather than a one-time battle. Dogs grappling with chronic hepatitis may need to adhere to a regimen of medications and dietary adjustments throughout their lives.

The outlook for dogs with chronic hepatitis is largely tethered to their health status at the time of diagnosis and how they respond to management over time. Those in the grips of severe symptoms may face a shorter journey, with survival spanning from days to months. Dogs with no symptoms or milder manifestations can, with solid treatment, continue to lead fulfilling lives, almost business as usual.

The bottom line? The prognosis for dogs with hepatitis can vary, but a proactive approach to managing the condition, with your vet's guidance, can make a significant difference in your dog’s quality and duration of life.

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Common hepatitis treatment and diet options

Managing hepatitis in dogs usually requires a multi-faceted approach combining medical treatment, dietary adjustments, and supportive care to alleviate symptoms and enhance liver function.

Remember: All of these options listed below are simply some commonly prescribed treatments, but they may or may not be recommended by your vet. Always see your vet first before launching into treatments.

Treatment Function
Anti-inflammatory medications Control inflammation in the liver
Antibiotics To treat secondary infections
Diuretics To manage fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites)
Copper chelators To help reduce copper levels in the liver (if applicable to your dog's condition)
Hepatic dog food Formulated to support liver function without overburdening it
Supplements May be recommended by your vet to support liver health


  • Anti-inflammatory medications: meds may be prescribed to control inflammation in the liver.

  • Antibiotics: If secondary infections are present, antibiotics may be necessary to tackle these infections.

  • Diuretics: In situations where fluid accumulates in the abdomen (ascites), diuretics can be used to manage this condition.

  • Copper chelators: For dogs with copper-associated hepatopathy, medications that help reduce copper levels in the liver, such as zinc and copper chelators, are often recommended.

Diet and supplements

  • Hepatic dog food: A crucial aspect of managing hepatitis is often dietary modification. Hepatic dog food is formulated to support liver function without overburdening it. These types of diets are low in protein to reduce the liver's workload yet high in energy to meet your dog's nutritional needs. There are a few great scientifically studied brands out there, and your vet can recommend the best one for your pet.

  • Supplements: Nutritional supplements might be recommended to support liver health. Don't go rogue and pick one off the shelf; ask your vet. One category that is commonly reached for by veterinary professionals are those containing SAM-e and silybin (milk thistle). These are suggested to help repair and regenerate liver cells.

What else can you do to support your dog?

Consistent veterinary check-ups are crucial for tracking liver health and tweaking treatments as needed.

Also, focus on two key lifestyle factors: hydration and exercise. Keeping your dog properly hydrated supports liver health and their overall condition. Plus, a regular, balanced exercise routine aids in sustaining a healthy weight and promoting metabolic health.

Additional treatments

The journey through hepatitis may be a tough trail to tread, but with the right knowledge and support, it's one that we can navigate alongside our faithful companions.

Regular vet check-ups, a keen eye for symptoms, and a tailored diet can make a world of difference in the life of a hepatic dog. And here's where pet insurance can help—dog insurance is designed to cover the cost of treating your pup for acute or chronic unexpected health issues.*

*ManyPets analyses every claim on its own merits, subject to the terms and conditions of your policy. Exclusions apply, including those for pre-existing conditions. Only claims unrelated to an excluded treatment or condition are eligible for coverage.

Add the MoneyBack optional extra for 20% back at the end of the policy year if you don’t need to claim.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.