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Copper hepatopathy in dogs is a relatively uncommon disorder that is primarily diagnosed in Bedlington terriers, Doberman pitchers as well as a couple other dog breeds which we will mention below.
What is Copper Hepatopathy? When the liver becomes diseased, we'll often refer to the process as a “hepatopathy” which literally means disease (-pathy) of the liver (hepato-). With copper hepatopathy in dogs, the liver may… harbor an abnormal version of the proteins used to bind copper or… suffer from abnormal bile metabolism.
To understand how these situations cause disease you should know the basics:
The following breeds are predisposed to copper hepatopathy:
In the Doberman, females are overrepresented. In Bedlington terriers, the mode of inheritance is autosomal recessive. For all others the mode is as yet undetermined.
Dogs can be affected in one of three ways:
Diagnosing of copper hepatopathy is multifaceted including this history, breed, physical examination and the following diagnostic tests:
Treatment of copper hepatopathy is depending upon the clinical signs and severity of the disease in the individual dog.
The cost of diagnosis can be quite high, unless it is performed as a screening test (for potentially subclinical breeding dogs), in which case the liver can be sampled at the time of a spay or neuter. Basic liver biopsy for otherwise healthy dogs is a relatively simple procedure. It can even be performed laparoscopically. Expect to pay anywhere from $200 (as an add-on to a spay, for example) to $1,000 or more for very sick dogs.
For very ill dogs the costs can be quite high, depending on the degree to which they are affected. The intensive care required for some can run into many thousands of dollars.
For the chronically or subclinically affected, chelation drugs can get expensive.
Luckily, strides have been made in identifying these patients early on. Biopsies taken at six months and again at 15 months (though usually undertaken only for high risk breeds entering a breeding program) can almost always rule out the disease before it causes problems - and before the genetic trait is passed along to any offspring.
It's been postulated that dogs eating a diet high in copper (many commercial dog foods allow for much of this mineral in their formulation) are more at risk. Feeding diets lower in copper is perhaps advisable for dogs whose breeds or lines render them at high risk, but it will not usually be sufficient to curtail the disease's ultimate progression.