Infectious Diseases of the Liver In Dogs

Bacterial infections, viral infections, fungal infections, parasitic diseases and other infections can affect the liver. Viral diseases that are associated with liver dysfunction include canine acidophil hepatitis, canine herpevirus and infectious canine hepatitis. Infectious canine hepatitis can cause long term inflammation which can lead to scarring of the liver, as well as death of the tissue of the liver. Canine herpesvirus and canine acidophil hepatitis are not common infections but they can occur.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause liver disease. It is caused Leptospira interrogans. It is diagnosed by testing blood samples and tissue sample. Tissue samples are obtained by a biopsy procedure. The treatment include appropriate antibiotics or penicillin and supportive care. The organism Leptospira interrogans can infect humans so extra precautions must be taken when handling infected dogs.

Coccidioidomycosis and Histoplasmosis

There are two most common fungal infections that are associated with liver dysfunction – coccidioidomycosis and histoplasmosis. The symptoms of liver dysfunction include jaundice, ascites which is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and an enlarged liver. Histoplasmosis is usually treated with a prescription anti-fungal drug. The prognosis depends on the level of illness but recovery can be poor. Coccidioidomycosis can sometimes be treated with a long term program of anti-fungal medications. This can be for six to twelve months. It is possible for relapses to occur.


Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease. It can kill the cells in the liver and cause sudden liver failure. The symptoms include fever, jaundice, diarrhea, lethargy, and vomiting. There may also be signs affecting the central nervous system or the eyes. Toxoplasmosis associated liver disease is more commonly seen in young dogs. A high percentage of dogs who suffer from toxoplasmosis also have canine distemper virus. The disease is sudden and can be quickly fatal. It can also be difficult to diagnose. Treatment is by administering antibiotics. The prognosis is dependent on the severity of the disease.

Canine Chronic Hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis is a long term liver inflammation which is more commonly seen in dogs than in cats. Some breeds of dog are predisposed to this condition. Breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Bedlington Terriers, Standard poodles, Skye Terriers, West Highland White Terriers and Doberman Pinschers. The cause of chronic hepatitis is unknown in many cases but there are cases in which there is a known cause. Bedlington Terriers, Skye Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels and Doberman Pinschers often have copper accumulation along with chronic hepatitis. Viral infection such as infectious canine hepatitis, drug toxicity and leptospirosis can also be associated with chronic hepatitis. The veterinarian will determine a treatment and management program based on the symptoms, the breed, the history of the dog and if there is a known cause.

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