Both infectious and acute canine hepatitis can lead to some very severe - even life-threatening - symptoms for your dog. Our vets in the Pacific Northwest explain the causes, signs, possible treatment options and more for this disease.
What is hepatitis in dogs?
Infectious Canine Hepatitis in Dogs
This acute contagious disease is caused by canine adenovirus 1, which targets the lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, lining of blood vessels and sometimes other organs. Signs may differ widely - from slight fever to death.
Canine Chronic Hepatitis
Associated with infectious canine hepatitis, canine chronic hepatitis commonly affects breeds that are predisposed to the disease, including Beagles, Chihuahuas, Doberman Pinschers, Bedlington Terriers, Standard Poodles, Skye Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Maltese, Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels.
The accumulation of copper in the liver's cells can cause some breeds to develop chronic hepatitis. This can eventually lead to the cells becoming damaged, potentially resulting in severe chronic hepatitis if left untreated.
If the infection has been causing damage for some time (at least a few weeks), the disease is deemed chronic, while acute hepatitis can manifest after only a few days.
What are symptoms of hepatitis in dogs?
Infectious canine hepatitis can lead to a range of signs and symptoms including:
- Loss of appetite
- Slight fever
- Congestion of mucous membranes
- Low white blood cell count
- Deficiency of blood clotting
- Severe reduction in white blood cells
- Eye inflammation
- Enlarged tonsils
- Bruised or reddened mouth and nose
- Vomiting (occasional)
- Abdominal pain (occasional)
- Yellow, jaundiced look to skin, ears and gums
- Watery discharge from eyes and nose
- Severe depression
- Swelling (head, neck, lymph nodes)
- Red dots on skin
- Reddened or bruised mouth and nose
Very young dogs experience the highest mortality rate. Fever higher than 104 F (40 C) is the first sign and lasts between 1 and 6 days, typically occurring in two stages. A low white blood cell count along with a short fever may be your vet’s clue that this condition has infected your pooch.
If the fever stretches past 1 day, your vet may notice other signs of illness as well, such as a faster heart rate and insufficient clotting, which can cause serious and spontaneous bleeding.
Though respiratory symptoms and those involving the central nervous system are unusual, severely infected dogs may have seizures due to brain damage. Bleeding in the brain can also cause slight paralysis.
Though the disease has become uncommon in areas where routine vaccinations are used, owners must still be vigilant, as the disease can develop quickly in both puppies and dogs.
What causes infectious canine hepatitis in dogs?
The most common way dogs become infected with canine hepatitis is by consuming feces, saliva, nasal discharge or urine from infected dogs. Dogs that are recovered shed the virus in their urine for at least 6 months.
What is the prognosis?
Following recovery from the disease, immune-complex reactions can lead to clouding of the cornea of the eye and long-term damage to kidneys. Though some cases of acute hepatitis can be cured, chronic hepatitis cannot be cured but will need monitoring and treatment so your pup can live a long, good quality life, with minimal clinical signs.
How can I prevent canine hepatitis?
Mandatory vaccine is the most widely used and important preventive measure for infectious canine hepatitis, and your dog will usually receive these along with his canine distemper vaccinations (most often, puppies should start their vaccinations between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks).
Ask your veterinarian how frequently your dog should be vaccinated against hepatitis - it’s vital that they get the right vaccines, at the correct age.
They will likely need this vaccine at about 7 to 9 weeks of age, with the first booster between 11 and 13 weeks, after which they’ll be protected. To remain protected, they’ll need to keep receiving the booster injections throughout their life - with another one at 15 months, then each year to keep the infection away.
How is hepatitis diagnosed and treated?
Contact your vet right away if you notice any symptoms listed above. Usually, abrupt onset of the condition and bleeding suggest that infectious canine hepatitis is the culprit, but laboratory tests(including antibody tests, immuno-fluorescence scanning and blood tests) are needed to confirm a diagnosis. Your dog may need blood transfusions if severely ill.
Sometimes, routine blood health panels can reveal chronic hepatitis, which may be diagnosed before signs develop. Once your dog starts to show signs of liver disease, it is often in a very late stage. A definitive diagnosis can be made with a liver biopsy, which will determine the severity and type of liver disease.
Depending on the results of the biopsy, your vet may recommend treating the disease with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medication.
Sometimes, a painful spasm can be associated with cornea clouding in the eye, and an eye ointment may be prescribed to alleviate pain. If your dog is experiencing corneal clouding, his eye should be protected from bright light.
Treatment options can range from intravenous fluid therapy to hospitalization. Your pup will need blood work on a regular basis for monitoring purposes.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.