Hepatitis in Dogs

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Infectious Canine Hepatitis

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Although Hepatitis in dogs is contagious and can be found worldwide, it's uncommon in areas where dogs are routinely vaccinated. It's severity ranges widely from very mild cases to very serious and sometimes fatal disease.


Infectious canine hepatitis is caused by a virus called canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1).

Risk Factors

Young dogs and unvaccinated dogs are at the highest risk of being infected with the virus causing infectious canine hepatitis. Very young puppies tend to develop the most serious illness.

Signs and Symptoms

Infectious canine hepatitis can cause a range of symptoms. Some dogs show very mild symptoms, but in severe cases the disease can be fatal. Symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding under the skin, bruising (may be noticed in the mouth)
  • Swelling of the head, neck, and trunk
  • Fluid accumulation in abdomen (ascites)
  • Jaundice (yellowish tinge to skin)
  • Seizures
  • Increases thirst and urination (secondary to kidney damage)
  • Bluish clouding of cornea is seen in some animals later on in the course of disease ("hepatitis blue eye")


Various methods are available to test for the presence of the virus causing infections canine hepatitis, or the presence of antibodies to the virus. Blood tests can be suggestive of the diagnosis when combined with the clinical signs, depending on the stages of the disease. A decrease in white blood cells and evidence of liver disease may be evident relatively early in the disease. Other tests such as radiographs and urine tests may also be performed.


There is no specific treatment for infectious canine hepatitis, so treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms until the virus runs its course. Depending on the severity of illness, hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy may be necessary. Antibiotics don't treat the virus but may be prescribed to ward off secondary bacterial infections. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.


Vaccines are available to prevent infectious canine hepatitis and are among the core vaccines recommended for all dogs (the combination vaccines often used for dogs protect against infectious canine hepatitis). Vaccination against a closely related virus, canine adenovirus type 2 (CAV-2 protects against both infectious canine hepatitis (CAV-1) and respiratory illness caused by CAV-2. CAV-2 vaccines are most commonly used to protect against both of these viruses due to the potential for side effects from the CAV-1 vaccine. Your vet will recommend a series of vaccines appropriate for your dog to protect against this and other common canine diseases.
Please note: this article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.