Do Dogs Get Hepatitis?


Do dogs get hepatitis? People obviously do. But do dogs get this disease? And how does this affect them?

Hepatitis is actually a very broad term. It will signify an inflammation of the liver, although the causes may actually differ. Since the liver is a very complex and vital organ a disease that incapacitates it will prove to be fatal. The livers primary functions are the detoxification, metabolism, the storage of glycogen and the synthesis of plasma protein. It also produces the bile that aids in digestion. The good news is, the liver is a large organ with plenty of reserves. The bad news is, since it has a large reserve, it won’t show apparent symptoms unless the liver is seriously damaged.

Although dogs do get hepatitis, it may be different in cause and effect from human hepatitis. There is what is called Infectious Canine Hepatitis. This disease is caused by a virus, and may prove to be a fatal disease in some dogs.

What is It?

This disease is caused by the CAV-1 an adenovirus. Dogs typically acquire this virus from contact, either through inhalation or ingestion of urine, eye secretions, and nasal secretions of infected dogs. This type of virus does not affect humans or other animals, only dogs.

The virus will attack the liver, eye, kidney, and blood vessel cells upon entry into the system of the dog. Fortunately, not all of these infections are fatal. Some dogs, after acquiring this virus, will manifest a cough, lethargy, loss of appetite, moodiness and low grade fevers. In some cases, they do not show any symptoms at all. Some will develop blue eye. Blue eye is a bluish discoloration of the cornea of the pets eye. Dogs that go through these become immune to re-infection from the disease. This will usually be the case in healthy, mature dogs with a healthy immune system.

However, there are some dogs especially puppies that will become very ill due to the virus. These dogs will develop internal bleeding, liver disease, tonsillitis, and general inflammation of the eyes and mouth. If left untreated, this condition could quickly deteriorate to shock and death.

The virus is also known to attack the dog’s spinal cord and brain. After infection the virus will take about five days to a week before manifesting openly. By this time the dog will be secreting the virus through its stool, urine, saliva, and nasal secretions. In two weeks time, the dog either succumbs to the illness or develops chronic hepatitis coupled with cirrhosis of the liver. This will seriously impair the dog’s capacity for converting glucose, and absorbing toxins.

This condition will reduce the liver’s capability to perform functions necessary for life. These functions include filtering harmful and toxic elements from the blood, storing blood sugar for conversion into usable energy, and creating many proteins that are necessary in the system.

Unfortunately, there is no way to destroy the virus after it has entered the dog’s system. Veterinarians will treat the disease by good supportive therapy intravenous fluids, good diet, rest, medicines to lighten the liver’s workload, and good care all aimed to strengthen the dog’s ability to recuperate. They will also give antibiotics to treat secondary infections.

There is a vaccine for this disease. It is a routine part of a puppy’s vaccination plan. And partly due to its efficiency, the cases of canine hepatitis in the United States are low. Therefore, the best way to keep your dogs free from this disease is a proper vaccination plan, and prompt and periodic visits with the veterinarian.

Canine hepatitis can prove to be a troublesome disease that, if unattended, will surely result in a dog’s death. With proper information about this disease dog owners will be able to take preemptive steps to assure themselves that their pets are safe from this debilitating diseases.

Chronic Active Hepatitis:

As opposed to the previous disease, this form of hepatitis is harder to treat and the prognoses are not very promising. This usually occurs in dogs of advanced age. The disease is caused by other factors such as toxins and molds in the dog’s diet. Infectious Canine Hepatitis can also cause this.

The symptoms of this disease are hard to pinpoint, but generally they will include lethargy, diarrhea, loss of appetite, swollen abdomen, jaundice (or yellowing eyes, gums, and skin). This disease could advance into the nervous system and render the dog blind. Seizures, coma and death usually follow.

To avoid this disease, good health habits including a good diet that emphasizes foods screened for toxins and molds should be exercised. Chapter 13. Protect Your Dog From Leptospirosis Leptospirosis is a contagious disease that affects animals as well as humans. Caused by a group of organisms called lepterospira interrogans (within such species there are different strains), the disease can lead to chronic liver and kidney disease and even death in dogs.

Eight of the different strains give off different types and levels of disease which depends upon the animal that they infect. The disease causes more problems in dogs. Not until recently, the vaccines that were available are only for two types of bacteria namely, Leptospirosis canicola and L. icterhaemorrhagiae, has virtually wiped out the clinical ailment associated with these strains between the immunized dog population. Vaccines for two other additional types of bacteria, L. grippotyphosa and L. Pomona are now readily available.

The leptospira organism

Leptospires grow well in water, appearing in a spiral shaped long body with hooks on both ends. They are called “aquatic spirochetes”. They are of two species, Leptospira biflexa and Leptospira interogans which cause disease in animals and humans. Leptospira interogans is divided into strains based upon antigen (stimulates the production of antibodies) types, providing very little cross immunity opposed to one serovar and the host, which is the dog that has developed resistance to one strain either by vaccination or through former infection, will not be capable in repelling an infection brought about by a different strain.

Sources of infection

Bacteria carriers are generally rats and other rodents, though an infected dog can also be a source of infection. The most significant means of transmitting the disease is through urine ingestion and other forms of bacteria will penetrate very thin skin.

Leptospirosis transmission

The disease is transmitted when the animal comes in contact with the urine of other infected animals, through bite wounds and absorption of an infected tissue.

Indirect transmission happens when dogs wade in or drink contaminated water or food. Since stagnant water provides a very appropriate environment for the leptospira, dogs that wade in it get infected.

Infections are common in the fall and in summer because the survival of the organism is highly reduced by freezing.


During the first four to twelve days following the infection, the dog will have fever and experience shivering, vomiting, appetite loss, depression, conjunctivitis and pain.

In severe cases, the infected dog may develop hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) eventually become depressed and die even before a kidney or liver breakdown.


A microscopic agglutination test is performed on a blood sample of a suspected animal from a laboratory. This can test for individual strains and the animal’s level of antibody (titer) to combat these strains. Depending on the titer’s level, a positive diagnosis to the precise and specific strain can then be made.

It will be helpful if many samples are drawn and tested as titers may have negative results in the first ten days after the infection, and former immunization shots may give an elevated titer and should be taken into consideration during the interpretation of the titers.

In dogs that are severely infected, they are expected to shed the leptospira organism in their urine, thus when a urine sample is taken and cultured, it can give a positive diagnosis. This is not the best way however, because the individual getting the sample may be at risk.


Treatment usually will consist of antibiotics, fluid replacement for rehydration through intravenous as well as controlling the dog’s vomiting through antiemetics and other problems related to liver or kidney infections. Note that dehydration must be correct within six to twelve hours.

Penicillin or one of its byproduct is the antibiotic that is given to treat early infection, after which, doxycycline is used for cure and prevention of possible continuing carrier state.

Prevention through vaccination

Currently, there are many vaccines available for a large variety of species. Chemically inactivated (killed species) vaccines are available for dogs and whole culture vaccine which causes the dog vaccine reactions. Before, leptospiral vaccines only protect against L. canicola and L. icterohaemorrhagiae. Only in the year 2000 that a new vaccine was developed to also protect dogs from L. grippotyphosa and L. pomona.

Prevention through other forms:

1. Solve your rodent problem in the home, keep it well under control.

2. Keep away stagnant water. Make sure to clean and take stagnant water out every corner of your yard, so your dog will not be tempted to drink and to play in it.

3. Mow your lawn regularly.

4. Always provide clean drinking water for your dog.

5. Always be sensitive to your pet’s condition. If he shows any abnormal signs, take him to the veterinarian immediately. 

Please note: This article is part of a collection of dog-related content that we purchased the rights to. Opinions expressed may or may not agree with those espoused by Master Dog Trainer Adam G. Katz. When in doubt, please refer to the advice given in Adam’s dog training book This article is provided for your enjoyment, only. It’s relevance to real world working dog training may be limited.