Infectious canine hepatitis, often referred to as simply ICH, is a contagious disease found in dogs, wolves, foxes, and other carnivores. Although uncommon in recent years in areas where pet owners vaccinate their dogs, infectious canine hepatitis remains a serious threat that can be fatal for very young dogs.
If you suspect your dog has infectious canine hepatitis, learn what to do to treat the virus and keep other pets safe. There are also ways you can prevent this disease, in most cases, for optimal pet safety.
What is canine hepatitis?
Canine hepatitis is a virus caused by canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1). This is a nonenveloped DNA virus. After a dog’s exposure, the initial infection will take place in the tonsillar crypts and Peyer patches. It can cause complications such as severe tonsillitis before spreading to the lymph nodes and circulating elsewhere in the dog’s body.
CAV-1 can lead to acute hepatitis (liver inflammation) if left untreated, as well as other diseases:
- Respiratory disease
- Ocular lesions
- Chronic hepatitis
Infectious canine hepatitis can be a very serious disease, especially in young dogs.
How do dogs get hepatitis?
CAV-1 can survive outside of a host animal for several weeks or months. Ingestion of CAV-1 through the saliva, urine, or feces of an infected dog is the most common route of transmission. Even a dog who has recovered can have traces of the virus in its urine for six months or longer. Infectious canine hepatitis is most common in puppies that are less than one year old. Modern vaccines have decreased the number of older dogs with canine hepatitis.
A dog will have a higher chance of getting canine hepatitis under crowded and stressful conditions, especially if unvaccinated. The best way to prevent infectious canine hepatitis in your dog is with a vaccine, typically administered at seven to nine weeks old. Try to keep your puppy away from crowded places and dog parks until it receives the vaccination to prevent canine hepatitis.
What are the symptoms?
Your dog may have infectious canine hepatitis if you notice symptoms such as:
- Lack of appetite
- Signs of abdominal pain
- Swelling of the lymph nodes
- Swelling of the liver
You might also notice depression in your pet. If you notice any of these symptoms, especially in a young puppy, take your pet to a veterinarian right away for a checkup. Your vet can do blood tests and immune-fluorescence scanning to diagnose what is wrong.
Can infectious canine hepatitis be transmitted to humans?
No, infectious canine hepatitis is not transmittable to humans. CAV-1 is not contagious for humans. Cats also cannot get infectious canine hepatitis.
Keep your household sanitary to better protect your dog – and other dogs that live in your home – from infectious diseases. Use a 1%-3% solution of household bleach as a disinfectant on surfaces your dog touches. This will be enough to kill CAV-1 bacteria that can otherwise live in your home for many weeks.
What is the treatment for canine hepatitis?
There is no specific treatment for canine hepatitis. If a veterinarian diagnoses your dog with infectious canine hepatitis, he or she may recommend treatments to reduce symptoms and alleviate pain. Antibiotics may be administered to treat secondary infections, but they will not be effective against the virus itself. Your dog’s immune system should be able to beat infectious canine hepatitis on its own over time. Hospitalization and an IV may be necessary to reduce severe symptoms while your dog heals.
Although the condition is treatable, it does have a 10%-30% mortality rate. Younger dogs under the age of two are more likely to die from infectious canine hepatitis than older dogs. The best way to protect your pet is through household disinfection, separation from other dogs as a young puppy and vaccinations.
Alana Redmond is a content writer who specializes in law and consumer safety. She also works with Ring Jimenez, P.C., a personal injury law firm in Albuquerque that specializes in dog bite injuries and accidents.