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Canine Infectious Hepatitis


Canine infectious hepatitis is generally caused by canine adenovirus type I, closely related to canine adenovirus type II. While hepatitis generally refers to inflammation of the liver, infectious hepatitis may also affect other body systems. This includes your dog’s blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, and eyes, in addition to the liver.

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    Your dog can become infected with the virus when exposed to bodily fluids from another infected canine. Such as urine and eye secretions.

    Dogs are at a higher risk of infection if their immune system is weaker. It may be the case of puppies or when a dog suffers from a complicating illness (i.e. Cushing’s disease). The virus is not considered a relatively hardy virus: in fact, it can be destroyed by many common disinfectants.


    The symptoms of canine infectious hepatitis depend largely on what body systems are being affected by the virus. Typically dogs develop symptoms of the illness within several days of exposure. However, dogs with a better immune system could be effected two weeks after exposure.

    Dogs that develop signs of illness may have:

    1. Mild symptoms
      • lethargy
      • decreased appetite
    2. Respiratory symptoms
      • discharge from the eyes and nose (with or without a cough)
    3. Severe symptoms
      • belly distension
      • jaundice
      • vomiting

    Diagnosis of Canine Infectious Hepatitis

    Diagnosing your dog with infectious hepatitis can be tricky based solely on the symptoms they show outwardly. They can be often so non-specific. If your veterinarian suspects this virus, or if your dog has vague respiratory symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostics beyond simple blood or urine testing.

    The veterinarian may collect samples of your dog’s ocular and nasal discharges, as well as often swabbing the back of the throat. These samples can be submitted to a diagnostic laboratory for PCR testing to determine what virus or bacteria is associated with the infection.

    Unfortunately, if a litter of puppies or multiple pets are affected and one dies, a necropsy, or dog autopsy, may be recommended. Pathologists can evaluate tissues microscopically for changes in organs such as the liver. Furthermore, they can also test the samples with virus isolation or PCR.

    Treatment for Canine Infectious Hepatitis

    As with many viral infections, the treatment for your dog with canine infectious hepatitis is generally symptomatic. While anti-viral medications are sometimes used, these tend to be less common in veterinary medicine, expensive, and not without side effects.

    For dogs that are not eating or drinking, your veterinarian may suggest hospitalization with IV fluids. Some pets may even need supportive feeding to make sure they get enough calories to help them fight off the virus. If your dog is running a sustained fever, anti-inflammatories may be needed to help get its body temperature under control. Anti-nausea medications, such as maropitant, may be prescribed.

    Antibiotics are controversial in many infections for dogs. They are ineffective in treating viral infections like canine infectious hepatitis. Nevertheless, they may be quite helpful in treating secondary bacterial infections. Your veterinarian may hold off prescribing them without cultures or specific testing to show that they are warranted.

    Vaccinating for Canine Infectious Hepatitis and Preventing Infection

    While canine infectious hepatitis is a rather scary virus, it is one that you can help prevent. Vaccinating puppies when they are young is helpful. Vaccinations help to produce a robust immune response that can protect your dog for a long time. The vaccine is generally given in combination, such as a “five way,” “six way,” or “seven way” vaccine, as they are often called. These protect against a complex of viruses, including canine parvovirus and canine distemper.

    After your puppy is appropriately boostered with its combination vaccine it is protected for a time. Usually, this vaccine is provided as a series of two to four vaccines given three to four weeks apart. Most organizations recommend giving a booster vaccine after a year and then every three years thereafter.

    To help protect your dog, you should not expose it to other dogs until it is fully vaccinated. Even then, you should not allow them to interact with sick dogs. Moreover, new pets to the household should be quarantined to make sure they don’t pass on different infections to your dog.

    If a dog is infected with canine infectious hepatitis, many disinfectants will help destroy the virus to minimize the spread. All surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned, following the directions of the product you are using.

    In Summary

    When you have a dog, there are many things to consider to keep them healthy, from what to feed them to toys. For most pets, vaccination is an essential way to keep them healthy. Your veterinarian can help recommend preventative care that takes your dog’s age and lifestyle into consideration.

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