Both infectious and acute canine hepatitis can result in some very concerning - and even life-threatening - symptoms for your dog. Our Charlotte vets explain the signs, causes, possible treatment options and more.
What is hepatitis in dogs?
Infectious Canine Hepatitis
Infectious canine hepatitis is an acute contagious disease caused by the canine adenovirus 1. The virus targets the liver, lungs, kidneys, spleen, lining of blood vessels and occasionally other organs. Signs can vary widely - from slight fever to death.
Canine Chronic Hepatitis
Canine chronic hepatitis is a condition associated with infectious canine hepatitis. Breeds that are predisposed to the disease include Beagles, West Highland White Terriers, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers. Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Bedlington Terriers, Standard Poodles and Skye Terriers.
Some breeds can potentially develop chronic hepatitis as a result of the accumulation of copper in the liver’s cells. Too much copper can damage the liver’s cells and often results in severe chronic hepatitis if left untreated.
Chronic means that the infection has been causing damage for some time (at least a few weeks), while acute hepatitis can manifest over only a few days.
What are symptoms of hepatitis in dogs?
Infectious canine hepatitis can cause a variety of signs and symptoms, including:
- Congestion of mucous membranes
- Slight fever
- Low white blood cell count
- Severe reduction in white blood cells
- Deficiency of blood clotting
- Loss of appetite
- Eye inflammation
- Watery discharge from eyes and nose
- Yellow, jaundiced look to ears, gums and skin
- Severe depression
- Abdominal pain (occasional)
- Vomiting (occasional)
- Bruised or reddened nose and mouth
- Enlarged tonsils
- Red dots on skin
- Bruised or reddened nose and mouth
- Swelling (neck, head, lymph nodes)
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.