Canine Hepatitis: Infectious Liver Disease in Dogs

Canine Hepatitis: Infectious Liver Disease in Dogs

Advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in your pets living longer, healthier lives. Additionally, worldwide pet vaccination programs have vastly decreased your dog’s chances of contracting dangerous infectious diseases, which can be deadly. During your dog’s puppyhood, your veterinarian will recommend a series of core vaccinations, to ensure their immune system can fight common dog diseases. Then, your canine companion must continue to receive booster vaccinations throughout their lifetime to ensure they remain healthy and protected into their grey muzzle years.

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is one of your dog’s core vaccinations. Although ICH is now rarely seen because of widespread dog vaccination programs, puppies and adult dogs who are not vaccinated are at risk for this potentially deadly virus. Additionally, dogs who recover from ICH may have lifelong kidney and eye problems. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants to ensure your dog is protected from this dangerous disease, and we discuss ICH signs, treatment, and prevention. 

What is infectious canine hepatitis in dogs? 

ICH is a highly contagious virus caused by the canine adenovirus 1 (CAV-1) that affects dogs and some wildlife including wolves, coyotes, and bears. Although hepatitis refers to liver inflammation, ICH can affect multiple organ systems including the lungs, gastrointestinal system, kidneys, and central nervous system. ICH can also cause eye problems and clotting disorders. This virus is often confused with other infectious diseases including parvovirus and infectious tracheobronchitis (i.e., kennel cough), because the organ systems affected and the clinical signs are similar. ICH is primarily spread through exposure to an infected animal’s bodily fluids, including urine, feces, or saliva. Puppies, or adult dogs with underlying medical problems, are most at risk for a severe infection, and older dogs may experience mild signs that do not require treatment. Common ways a dog may become infected with ICH include:

  • Ingestion of an infected dog’s feces or urine
  • Direct contact with an infected dog
  • Exposure to infected wildlife
  • Contact with an infected dog’s sneeze droplets
  • Staying at a boarding facility or shelter where infected dogs are present

Infectious canine hepatitis signs in dogs 

ICH signs are similar to other common dog infectious diseases, and severity will depend on the infected dog’s immune system. Signs may occur two to five days after ICH exposure, and are dependent on the organ system that is affected. Dogs who are diagnosed with ICH may shed the virus in their urine for more than six months. ICH may be fatal in some cases. Signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Eye and nasal discharge
  • Redness around the eyes
  • Corneal clouding or a blue hue to the eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Bruising
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Seizures

Infectious canine hepatitis diagnosis and treatment in dogs 

Your dog needs a veterinary examination if they show ICH signs. Diagnosis is based on your dog’s medical history, clinical signs, and potential ICH exposure history. A serology test to check for CAV-1 antibodies, or a PCR test to look for viral particles in samples of an infected dog’s saliva, discharge, or urine will provide a definitive diagnosis. Other diagnostic tests may include a complete blood count to check for secondary infections or an associated disease, and a serum biochemistry test to evaluate organ function. Coagulation tests may also be recommended to check for blood clotting problems. Advanced imaging such as an X-ray or ultrasound may be used to evaluate an enlarged liver or the presence of abdominal fluid. In some cases, a liver biopsy may be required for further diagnosis. 

An ICH infection has no cure. Dogs who receive immediate veterinary care may recover, but recovered pets may have lifelong kidney or eye problems. Most dogs will require hospitalization for supportive care. Treatment may include:

  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration 
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Blood transfusions
  • Antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections
  • Antiviral medications
  • Eye medications
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • GI protectants
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Pain relievers
  • Specialized diet   

Financial options for your dog’s infectious canine hepatitis treatment 

ICH treatment may require long-term hospitalization for your pet, plus lifelong veterinary management for kidney and eye problems. Such long-term care can result in a large veterinary bill. Fortunately, multiple payment options are available to ensure you can cover the cost of your pet’s ICH emergency treatment and follow-up care. Most dogs who are severely affected by ICH are young, so research pet insurance policies and purchase a plan as soon as you bring a puppy into your family. Many pet insurance providers such as Trupanion have policies that include reimbursement for emergency veterinary care and hospitalization. Other payment methods include:

  • Care Credit
  • Scratch Pay
  • Pet health savings accounts
  • Short-term bank loans

Infectious canine hepatitis prevention in dogs 

An ICH diagnosis can be devastating for pet owners because some pets will not recover and many will have lifelong medical problems. Fortunately, widespread vaccination programs have greatly reduced the number of infected dogs. The ICH vaccine is part of a core canine combination vaccination. The American Animal Hospital Association guidelines state that puppies should receive their first ICH vaccination when they are 6 weeks old followed by booster vaccinations every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Adult dogs should receive a booster vaccine every three years. Additionally, you should not allow your dog to socialize with other dogs or stay overnight in boarding facilities until they are fully vaccinated. Use caution when hiking or spending time in wooded areas and prevent your dog from interacting with any wildlife or wildlife feces to prevent accidental infection. 

Ensure your dog is vaccinated by your family veterinarian to prevent an ICH infection. However, call Animal Emergency Care if your dog has any ICH signs after hours, and bring them in for immediate care. #AECprevents