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What is Canine Infectious Hepatitis?

Photograph: iStock

Text: Tarek Abu Sham

Canine infectious hepatitis is generally caused by canine adenovirus type I, closely related to canine adenovirus type II. While hepatitis generally refers to inflammation of the liver, infectious hepatitis may also affect other body systems, including your dog's blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, and eyes, in addition to the liver.

Your dog can become infected with the virus when exposed to bodily fluids from another infected canine, including urine and eye secretions. The virus is not considered a relatively hardy virus, however, it can be destroyed by many common disinfectants.

Typically dogs develop symptoms of the illness within several days of exposure, but dogs with a better immune system could be affected two weeks after exposure. Dogs that develop signs of illness may have mild clinical signs, which could be as generic as general lethargy or decreased appetite. Many dogs have respiratory symptoms, including discharge from the eyes and nose, with or without a cough. Some dogs may be more severely affected, with belly distension, jaundice, and vomiting: these cases are more likely to be fatal.

Diagnosing your dog with infectious hepatitis can be tricky based solely on the symptoms they show outwardly because they can be non-specific. If your veterinarian suspects this virus, or if your dog has vague respiratory symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostics beyond simple blood or urine testing.

Treatment for Canine Infectious Hepatitis

The treatment for a dog with canine infectious hepatitis is generally symptomatic. While anti-viral medications are sometimes used, these tend to be less common in veterinary medicine, expensive, and not without side effects.

For dogs that are not eating or drinking, your veterinarian may suggest hospitalization with IV fluids. Some pets may even need supportive feeding to make sure they get enough calories to help them fight off the virus. If your dog is running a sustained fever, anti-inflammatories may be needed to help get their body temperature under control. Anti-nausea medications, such as maropitant, may be prescribed.

Antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections like canine infectious hepatitis, but they may help treat secondary bacterial infections. Your veterinarian may hold off prescribing them without cultures or specific testing to show that they are warranted.

"Vaccinating puppies when they are young helps produce a robust immune response that can protect your dog for a long time."

Vaccinating for Canine Infectious Hepatitis and preventing infection

Vaccinating puppies when they are young helps produce a robust immune response that can protect your dog for a long time. The vaccine is generally given in combination, such as a "five-way," "six-way," or "seven-way" vaccine, as they are often called. These protect against a complex of viruses, including canine parvovirus and canine distemper.

After your puppy is appropriately given the booster vaccine with their combination vaccine (usually a series of two to four vaccines given three to four weeks apart), they are protected for a time. Most organizations recommend giving a booster vaccine annually.

To help protect your dog, you should not expose them to other dogs until they are fully vaccinated. Even then, you should not allow them to interact with sick dogs, and new pets to the household should be quarantined to make sure they don't pass on different infections to your dog.

When you have a dog, there are many things to consider to keeping them healthy, from what to feed them, to toys. For most pets, vaccination is a crucial way to keep them healthy. Your veterinarian can help recommend preventative care that takes your dog's age and lifestyle into consideration.

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