Infectious Hepatitis in Dogs

Infectious hepatitis in dogs is a very serious and occasionally fatal disease that affects the liver. Most dogs diagnosed with this disease will recover without any treatment.

How the Disease Is Spread

Infectious canine hepatitis is normally spread through contact with the bodily waste (urine or feces) of an infected animal or through transference of bodily fluids such as saliva or mucous/nasal discharge of an infected animal. The virus that causes infectious hepatitis is contracted through the mouth or nose, replicating in the tonsils. After an incubation period of between four and seven days, it begins to infect the liver and kidneys.

Symptoms of Infectious Hepatitis

Early diagnosis of infectious hepatitis is the key to rapid recovery from this disease. Normally, infectious hepatitis isn't fatal in dogs. However, fatalities have been known to occur due to secondary infections and problems. Symptoms of this disease include fever, loss of appetite, coughing, tenderness in the abdomen and depression. Some dogs will also develop corneal edema and experience symptoms of liver disease such as jaundice, hepatic encephalopathy and vomiting. Hepatic encephalopathy is a condition where the liver fails, causing an altered level of consciousness, confusion and coma. This condition is sometimes fatal. Your dog may also have bouts of bloody diarrhea.

Diagnosing Canine Infectious Hepatitis

The first step in diagnosing this disease is recognizing any symptoms that your dog may be showing. Check your dog's mouth. If he has hematomas (bruising) in the mouth, you should take him to the vet immediately for blood tests. Blood tests will show a high presence of canine adenovirus type-1 (CAV-1) in the blood and an abnormally low white blood count

Treating Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Treatment is aimed more at alleviating discomfort through dealing with the symptoms, instead of the underlying condition. Fighting this disease is more about prevention. The main method of prevention is through vaccination. Most vaccines used for preventing infectious canine hepatitis contain a modified form of the canine adenovirus type 2, which causes respiratory infections in dogs, but resembles type 1 enough that antibodies for one virus type work to fight off infection by the other. Type 2 is used because it is less likely to cause side effects than type 1. As a dog owner, if you suspect that an infected animal has defecated in your yard, you need to ensure that the virus is killed before your dog can become infected. Steam cleaning is the best way to kill the virus.

A day or two after recovery, his appetite will come back, but weight gain will be slow. Your dog may experience mild corneal opacity a few days after recovery, but this will normally clear up after a few days. Although this problem requires no treatment, atropine ophthalmic ointment is often prescribed to relieve discomfort caused by painful ciliary spasms. If you have a dog, you should consult your vet soon to have the pet vaccinated against canine infectious hepatitis.