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Understanding Canine Hepatitis in Dogs


Canine hepatitis is a very serious condition caused by a highly infectious virus that affects the liver. Canine hepatitis is a very serious condition worldwide, caused by a highly infectious virus that affects the liver. If your dog comes into contact with saliva, urine, or feces of an infected dog, they can contract the virus. The lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, and the linings of blood vessels are typically affected. In serious cases, death can occur.

It can develop extremely quickly in puppies and dogs. Mortality rates in dogs with canine hepatitis range from 10- 30% and is typically highest in very young dogs. While it can take a while for the virus to present symptoms, the effects can be quite simple to spot once they take effect.

Typically, you will notice your dog becoming increasingly more lethargic and unwilling to eat. This will then be followed by a fever and a jaundiced appearance as the liver fails to filter toxins out of the bloodstream. It is not unusual for a canine to start vomiting as a result of damage to their liver.

As soon as the signs of liver failure start to appear, take your companion straight to a vet. Further damage to the organ may prove fatal. Also, in most cases, a dog will have picked up the disease by coming into contact with another infected animal. Evidently, It is this ease of transmission that makes vaccination important in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

Types of Canine Hepatitis

There are two broad classification of canine hepatitis in dogs;

  • Infectious Canine Hepatitis
  • Canine Chronic Hepatitis

Infectious Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis is a worldwide, contagious disease of dogs with signs that vary. Signs ranging from a slight fever and congestion of the mucous membranes to severe depression, severe reduction in white blood cells. In recent years, the disease has become uncommon in areas where routine vaccination is used.

Infectious canine hepatitis is caused by a virus, canine adenovirus 1. Consumption of urine, feces, or saliva from infected dogs is the most common route of infection. Recovered dogs shed virus in their urine for at least 6 months.

The virus targets the lining of blood vessels, the liver, kidneys, spleen, and lungs, though other organs are occasionally involved. Long-term kidney damage and clouding of the cornea of the eye (“blue eye”) result from immune-complex reactions after recovery from the disease.


Symptoms include

  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing,
  • Tender abdomen.
  • Corneal edema

Signs of liver disease such as jaundice, vomiting, and hepatic encephalopathy, may also occur. Severe cases will develop bleeding disorders, which can cause hematomas to form in the mouth. Death can occur secondary to this or the liver disease. However, most dogs recover after a brief illness, although chronic corneal edema and kidney lesions may persist.

Chronic Hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis is a syndrome in dogs that can result from many different disease processes. It means that at some point there has been inflammation in the liver and possibly necrosis (cell death). Inflammation is due to infiltration of the liver with various white blood cells that are active in the immune system. Necrosis refers to the death of large numbers of liver cells.

The invasion of white blood cells and can be due to previous damage to the liver by infectious agents such as viruses or bacteria. This can also occur as a result of toxic damage. Toxic damage can be caused by poisons ingested by the dog or by abnormal accumulation of substances needed by the body.

A primary attack by the immune system against liver cells can also cause inflammation and cell death. This condition is known as “autoimmune” disease. Cancer can result in similar liver damage, but if cancer is identified in the liver, the term chronic hepatitis is not used.


The clinical signs associated with this condition may include:

  • A mild-to-marked decrease in appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Swollen belly filled with fluid (ascites)
  • A yellow (jaundiced) tinge to the skin, ears and gums.

Occasionally, dogs exhibit strange behavior or neurologic signs, such as severe lethargy, depression, aggression, blindness. You may also notice standing in corners, pressing their heads into walls or corners, loss of consciousness, seizures or coma.

How Canine hepatitis diagnosed and treated

If you notice any symptoms listed above, contact your vet right away. Typically, sudden onset of the condition and bleeding point to canine hepatitis as the culprit.

However, laboratory tests (including antibody tests, blood tests and immunofluorescence scanning) are needed to diagnose the disease and If severely ill, your dog may also need blood transfusions.

Occasionally, chronic hepatitis in dogs is discovered via a routine blood health panel and the disease can be diagnosed before symptoms develop and once your dog begins to display signs of liver disease, the condition has often progressed to a very late stage.

Your vet can make a definitive diagnosis by taking a liver biopsy, which will determine the severity and type of liver disease. Depending on which results the biopsy reveals, your vet may recommend treating the disease with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medication.

Sometimes, cornea clouding in the eye can be associated with painful spasms, and your vet may prescribe an eye ointment to alleviate pain. If your dog is experiencing clouding in the cornea, his eye should be protected from bright light.

Treatment options can range from intravenous fluid therapy to hospitalization. Blood work will need to be taken on a regular basis and your pooch will need to be monitored.

Prevention and Care

Vaccination against Canine hepatitis is recommended at the time of canine distemper vaccinations. Modified-live virus (MLV) injectable vaccines are available and are often combined with other vaccines.  Maternal antibody from immune bitches interferes with active immunization in puppies until they are 9–12 wks. old. Attenuated CAV-1 vaccines have produced transient unilateral or bilateral opacities of the cornea, and the virus may be shed in urine.

Your veterinarian will schedule follow-up appointments according to your dog’s underlying disease state. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog’s symptoms return or worsen, if your dog loses weight, or if your dog begins to show a poor body condition.


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