What is Canine Hepatitis?

Marjorie McAtee

Canine hepatitis is a viral liver disease of dogs. It is normally caused by canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1). It usually spreads through direct contact with the body fluids of an infected dog, or through contact with contaminated surfaces in the sick dog's environment. Canine hepatitis can be fatal to dogs, and can cause death very rapidly. While treating this disease is difficult, a vaccine is available to protect dogs from canine hepatitis.

Young dogs are vulnerable to canine hepatitis.
Young dogs are vulnerable to canine hepatitis.

Canine adenovirus type 1 usually attacks the larynx, tonsils, and lungs first. Initial symptoms of infection may include coughing, sore throat, and, in severe cases, pneumonia. Later in the disease process, CAV-1 can affect the kidneys, eyes, and liver. Fluid build-up within the eye can lead to a symptom known as "hepatitis blue eye," which causes the eye to appear opaque and tinted blue. Inflammation and eventually failure of the liver and kidneys can occur, causing excessive thirst, excessive urination, diarrhea, vomiting, and seizures.

Dogs with canine hepatitis can survive with appropriate treatment.
Dogs with canine hepatitis can survive with appropriate treatment.

Dogs in their first year of life are considered most vulnerable to this viral infection, although CAV-1 can infect older dogs, too. The virus that causes canine hepatitis can usually be found around the world, so this disease isn't limited by geographic region. Canine hepatitis can be fatal, and death may occur within as little as two hours after the first symptoms appear.

Dogs who have canine hepatitis may recover if appropriate treatment is administered. Hospitalization is usually required, as these dogs generally need intravenous fluids. Steroids may be administered to reduce inflammation, and antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infections. Even with proper care, some dogs succumb to canine hepatitis.

Vaccines are available to protect dogs from this viral disease, and they are usually administered as part of the core vaccinations most vets believe necessary for dogs. These vaccines usually also protect against kennel cough, which is caused by a similar, related virus, but usually isn't fatal. Puppies generally receive these vaccinations at about eight to 12 weeks of age, and yearly boosters are often recommended. Since canine hepatitis can be fatal even when treated, prevention is often considered the most effective cure for the disease.

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