Q: My Labrador retriever has been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis. Do I need to worry that he could pass on the disease to family members or friends?

A: Canine chronic hepatitis, which cannot be transmitted to people, is not actually a single disease, but a group of liver diseases, none of which we understand very well. Some forms appear to be autoimmune-related, while others are associated with high levels of copper in the liver. Sometimes, cases are associated with infection or drug toxicity.

Clinical signs tend to be vague - poor appetite, weakness, yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes - and may not become apparent until the condition is far advanced. Vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and excessive thirst and urination also can be signs of chronic liver disease.

It may also impact certain breeds more commonly, including cocker spaniels, Doberman pinschers, Dalmatians, Labrador retrievers, Skye terriers, standard poodles and West Highland white terriers. In Bedlington terriers, chronic hepatitis is caused by a buildup of copper that eventually damages the liver.

Treatment may involve antibiotics, medications to help support the liver, anti-inflammatory drugs or drugs that treat or prevent the buildup of copper in the liver. Your veterinarian also may recommend certain dietary changes or vitamin supplements to help reduce the level of copper in the body.