What are Hepatotoxicosis?
The most commonly affected dog breed is the Bedlington Terrier. In the United States over half of the breeding population of Bedlington terriers are affected. Other breeds such as West Highland Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, Skye Terriers, Anatolian Shepherd, Dalmatians, Keeshonds, Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers have also known to be affected. The mode of inheritance is not entirely clear although it appears that female dog are more often affected than male dogs. The increased prevalence of hepatotoxicosis is also linked to a change in kibble manufacturing in 1997 in which manufacturers increased readily available copper supplements.
Hepatotoxicosis is also known as copper storage disease. It is an inherited condition that leads to excessive build up of copper in your dog’s liver, which can lead to hepatitis and eventually cirrhosis.
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Symptoms of Hepatotoxicosis in Dogs
Symptoms will vary somewhat, according to what stage of liver failure the dog is in.
- Dark urine
- Pale mucous membranes
- Nose or gum bleeding
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Black stools
- Nervous system dysfunction
- Abdominal fluid accumulation
- Subclinical -The dog has elevated levels of copper in his liver but is showing no outward signs of liver failure
- Acute - Most likely to affect young dogs
- Chronic - Most often seen in middle-aged dogs
Causes of Hepatotoxicosis in Dogs
The inability to process naturally occurring copper is a genetic condition. Some commercial dog foods contain excessive amounts of copper, exacerbating the problem. Although copper is naturally occurring and a needed part of the canine diet, in this case, there can be too much of a good thing. Hepatotoxicosis is also sometimes caused by an injury to the liver.
If buying a dog well known for its susceptibility to the genetic mutation that causes hepatotoxicosis, ask for linage documentation demonstrating the dog’s good genetic make up. You may have your dog tested at one year old to determine whether or not he is affected with hepatotoxicosis.
Diagnosis of Hepatotoxicosis in Dogs
Diagnosis will likely start with a blood count and urinalysis. It may also include an x-ray of the liver. Your veterinarian will most likely need a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. As with all diagnoses, a detailed and accurate health history of your dog will help your veterinarian come to an accurate diagnosis and best be able to treat your particular case.
Treatment of Hepatotoxicosis in Dogs
Hepatotoxicosis is most commonly treated with chelation. After chelation, your dog will need to maintain a low copper diet for life. Your veterinarian may sell commercial prescription dog food for liver disease. Your veterinarian may also provide you with a list of commercial dog foods that will suit your dog’s low copper needs that you may source at your local pet food store. A low copper kibble adequate for a dog with hepatotoxicosis ideally contains less than 0.5PPM of copper. With assistance from your veterinary caregiver, you may choose to supplement your dog’s commercial prescription diet with whole food toppers. With help from a board certified veterinary nutritional specialist, you may choose to make a homemade food for your dog. If choosing this route, alternative protein sources such as plant proteins and whitefish are often sought. Foods rich in copper such as organ meats, shellfish, nuts, and legumes are avoided.
Sometimes hepatotoxicosis is treated with daily doses of zinc because of zinc’s naturally occurring inhibition qualities. Chelation and zinc are not recommended to be used in conjunction because each limits the other's effectiveness. Most commercial prescription liver diets have elevated levels of zinc. Some dogs do not tolerate zinc therapy well. Common side effects include vomiting and loss of appetite. Vitamin E is also often prescribed to help reduce the damage to the liver.
Recovery of Hepatotoxicosis in Dogs
Dogs with chronic hepatotoxicosis need to be fed a low copper diet to slow the accumulation of copper. They should not be given water from copper pipes. Repeated check-ups and possible further biopsies will be required to monitor the pet’s health approximately every six months. Dogs will also need to be monitored to ensure they do not gain weight. Some dogs may need to have their diet further restricted to help them shed excessive weight.