Infectious canine hepatitis in dogs

Infectious canine hepatitis is a viral disease that affects the liver and other organs. It can be fatal in 10-30% of cases in young dogs and puppies. A very effective vaccine is available and this disease has become very rare in areas where the vaccine is commonly used. 

This disease can affect dogs, wolves, coyotes, skunks, bears and foxes. The virus is easily transmitted between dogs but can also survive for months on objects. Besides the liver, it commonly affects the kidneys, spleen, eyes and lungs. It can cause sudden death in puppies, or different degrees of liver failure and clotting problems. The vaccine against this disease is considered a core vaccine and is included in all vaccination plans.



What is infectious canine hepatitis in dogs?

Infectious canine hepatitis is caused by a virus called Canine Adenovirus Type 1. The virus usually enters the body through the mouth or nose. From there, it moves to the liver and the lining of blood vessels. This can lead to:

  • Liver failure
  • Clotting problems
  • Bleeding and bruising
  • Kidney problems
  • Eye problems

This disease can appear in three different ways:

  • Sudden illness and death in less than 48 hours
  • Acute illness, from which surviving animals (70-90%) recover in a couple of weeks
  • Liver failure over weeks to months



Symptoms of infectious canine hepatitis in dogs

Common symptoms:

Rare symptoms:

  • Seizures
  • Stumbling/incoordination
  • Blindness

Jaundice is seen as a yellowish colour of the skin or the white part of the eyes. It’s not usually seen in cases where the disease develops very quickly but may appear if it’s been ongoing for several days.



Dogs at risk of infectious canine hepatitis

  • Severe forms of disease usually happen in puppies or very young dogs
  • Exposure to foxes and other wild animals may increase the risk of catching this disease
  • Humans and other house pets are safe from infectious canine hepatitis



Diagnosis of infectious canine hepatitis in dogs

The initial symptoms of the disease are similar to other infections and diseases, but the sudden development of liver disease in a young dog is highly suspicious of this virus.

Blood tests are available to diagnose this disease, although some of them can be affected by recent vaccination.

Survival often depends on controlling the symptoms, so finding the cause may not be the priority initially.


Vet treatment

Veterinary treatment of infectious canine hepatitis in dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, so treatment is limited to supporting the patient and managing the symptoms. This often involves:

  • Hospitalisation for careful monitoring
  • Fluid support by intravenous drip
  • Anti-sickness medications
  • Nutritional support, such as a stomach tube
  • Blood or plasma transfusions, or in some cases, anticoagulants, to manage the clotting issues
  • Sometimes antibiotics, if other infections are present or suspected


Home treatment

Home treatment of infectious canine hepatitis in dogs

This is a severe disease that needs intensive veterinary treatment as soon as possible.

Life after infectious canine hepatitis

  • Dogs that recover from infectious canine hepatitis may pass the virus in their urine for 6-9 months. Precautions need to be taken to stop the spread of the disease but vary with the circumstances of each dog.
  • Dogs may be left with liver or kidney damage, which may require ongoing treatments, adjustments to their diet, or regular monitoring of these organs. Kidney problems are often temporary but liver damage may be permanent.
  • Eye complications usually recover fully but may need to be monitored so any worsening can be detected early.
  • Dogs develop long-term immunity to the virus after natural infection, but the duration of this is not known.



Prevention of infectious canine hepatitis in dogs

  • A vaccine is available and is very effective at preventing this disease. It is included in all vaccination plans and is first administered around 6-8 weeks, with a second dose given between 2-4 weeks later when maternal antibodies start to wane. A booster is recommended a year later.
  • Immunity from vaccination is known to last at least three years, possibly more. As a precaution, current recommendations are to repeat the vaccine every three years.
  • Puppies are protected early in life up to 6-8 weeks old by the antibodies they receive from their mothers in their first few days of life. Because of this, it’s crucial that the mum-to-be is up to date with her vaccinations, ideally before mating.
  • This virus can survive outdoors and on objects for many months but is destroyed by common household disinfectants such as bleach.


When to worry

When to worry

See a vet immediately if:

  • a young puppy or unvaccinated dog has diarrhoea with large amounts of blood or
  • you can see bruises on your dog’s skin without an obvious cause

Speak to a Joii vet if your dog is:

  • not eating
  • very quiet
  • vomiting
  • having a fever.


Consult a vet - £28

Consult your vet online. Anyday, anytime.

Consult a Joii vet online for £28. Or free if you’re insured with one of our partners.

Developed by vets 🩺

QR code to app

How to get an

Join a practice

*It's free*

Download the app to register and become a member of Joii vets. In only a few taps you will have access to digital vet care 24/7 as well as a vet practice

Download the app

We’re writing as quick as we can

This article is currently being written by one of our expert vets. Check back soon.