Diagnosing Hepatitis in Dogs

Hepatitis in dogs is a liver disease caused by canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1). This type of virus affects dogs all over the world. It can cause severe symptoms and even death. Here's what you should know about this aggressive viral disease.

Cause and Symptoms of Canine Hepatitis

Canine hepatitis occurs after infection with the canine adenovirus type 1, or CAV-1. CAV-1 is found all over the world and affects dogs.

CAV-1 spreads through the bodily fluids, such as the urine or nasal discharge, of infected animals. Most dogs get canine hepatitis through direct contact with infected dogs. Dogs who have recovered from canine hepatitis can remain contagious for up to nine months after recovery. They can spread the virus to other dogs through their urine. 

Dogs can also catch canine hepatitis through contact with the cages, runs, dishes, bedding and other personal effects of infected dogs. People can spread canine hepatitis to healthy dogs through contact with contaminated clothing or hands. 

Symptoms of Hepatitis in Dogs

The initial symptoms of canine hepatitis include coughing and sore throat. Pneumonia may sometimes develop. Once in the blood, the virus can begin to affect the kidneys, eyes and liver. Your dog's corneas may appear bluish or cloudy due to fluid retention within the eyes.

Your dog may run a fever, lack energy, and appear depressed. Abdominal tenderness, paleness of mucous membranes, loss of appetite and inflammation of the lymph nodes may occur. Your dog's liver may swell and his gums may bleed. Canine hepatitis often leads to liver and kidney failure. Your dog might experience increased thirst, diarrhea and vomiting, seizures and death.

Canine hepatitis occurs most often in young dogs less than one year old. Dogs can die very quickly from hepatitis. In some cases, dogs can die from the infection in as little as two hours. For this reason, canine hepatitis is often mistaken for poisoning. Most cases of canine hepatitis, however, are not this severe.

Diagnosing Canine Hepatitis

Your vet can diagnose canine hepatitis through a blood test or by examining your dog's nasal discharge or urine. Your vet will perform a physical examination and may palpitate the dog's abdomen to check for liver enlargement. If your dog has hepatitis, the vet may find higher than normal levels of liver enzymes in the dog's blood.

Treating Canine Hepatitis

Vets can't yet cure hepatitis in dogs. All your vet can do is offer supportive care and keep your dog hydrated with intravenous fluids. Your dog will either recover from the virus or not.

You can prevent canine hepatitis by getting your dog vaccinated against the virus. Unvaccinated dogs are at the highest risk for developing canine hepatitis. Most vaccines contain either canine adenovirus type 1, the cause of canine hepatitis, or canine adenovirus type 2, the cause of many canine coughs. These two vaccines are similar enough that one type can protect your dog against both viruses.