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Copper Hepatopathy in Dogs

Copper hepatopathy is genetic in Bedlington terriers.

This condition involves copper accumulation in the liver, where it causes inflammation, dysfunction, and ultimately, cirrhosis.

Causes of Copper Hepatopathy

Usually, the small intestines absorb copper and then extract for storage in the liver. When too much copper accumulates in the liver, the result is copper hepatopathy. The causes of this condition can be genetic, or it can happen secondary to another condition that causes cholestasis (abnormally flowing bile).

The genetic form of copper hepatopathy is most common in Bedlington terriers. It is seen to a lesser degree in West Highland white terriers.

Signs of Copper Hepatopathy in Dogs

When a dog has copper hepatopathy, signs can vary depending on whether the condition causes sudden, severe signs or more chronic, progressive signs.

Sudden, severe signs of the copper hepatopathy include:

  • Lethargy
  • Absent appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Enlarged liver
  • Yellow skin and mucous membranes
  • Rapid deterioration
  • Death

Dogs with chronic, progressive disease may show the following signs:

  • Decreased or absent appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Waxing and waning lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased water consumption and urination
  • Spontaneous bleeding
  • Neurologic abnormalities like wobbliness, head tilt, and seizures
  • Yellow skin and mucous membranes
  • Small liver

Diagnosis of Copper Hepatopathy in Dogs

When a veterinarian sees a dog with copper hepatopathy, he or she will need to rule out other causes of liver dysfunction, including infections and pancreatitis. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia may also cause similar signs, as can zinc intoxication and liver cancer.

Many blood tests, x-rays, and ultrasound may point toward copper hepatopathy and away from other causes of liver failure. A liver biopsy or fine needle aspirate can verify the presence of too much copper in the liver.

Treatment of Copper Hepatopathy in Dogs

Some or all of the following treatments may be necessary:

  • Nursing care and aggressive supportive therapy for liver failure may be required, including hospitalization for IV fluids
  • A low-copper diet is initiated and maintained for life
  • Zinc supplementation, which can help clear copper from the body
  • Other medications to treat specific signs or blood results as necessary

Note: DNA tests can be done on Bedlington terriers to determine if they care the gene for copper hepatopathy. Breeders should have that test done and not breed carriers.

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