Infectious canine hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis is a disease of the liver and other organs caused by canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1).

The virus is spread in the body fluids of infected dogs such as nasal discharge, blood, saliva, faeces and urine. Recovered patients can shed the virus for up to nine months in the urine. It is contracted through the mouth or nose, where it replicates in the tonsils. The virus then infects the liver and kidneys.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include; fever, loss of appetite, coughing, and abdominal pain. Signs of liver disease such as jaundice, vomiting, and hepatic encephalopathy (alters how the brain works), may also occur. Severe cases can develop blood clotting problems. Death can occur secondary to bleeding problems or to liver disease. However, most dogs recover after a brief illness, although chronic corneal edema and kidney lesions may persist.

Unvaccinated dogs of all ages are at risk, however, the disease is most prevalent in patients less than one year of age. Death can result as soon as two hours after the initial signs. Death can be so sudden it may appear as if the patient was poisoned.

Treatment and prevention?

There is no specific treatment for infectious canine hepatitis. Treatment is usually supportive involving intravenous fluids, antibiotics, nutritional support and in some cases medication to stop the effects on the brain.

The virus can survive in the environment for months under the right conditions. It can also be released in the urine of a recovered dog for up to a year. It is therefore important that young puppies are not exposed to this potential risk until they have completed their vaccinations. Vaccination of puppies and adult dogs is a very effective way of preventing the disease.