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Infectious Canine Hepatitis – Symptoms, Treatments & Prognosis

Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH), as the name implies, is a contagious liver disease caused by the canine adenovirus– type 1 in dogs.

Formerly known as “epizootic fox encephalitis,” members of the canid family (e.g., foxes and coyotes) can be infected, but adenovirus 1 is harmless to humans.

This disease has become rare due to widespread dog vaccination programs such as the cross-reacting adenovirus type II vaccine. As such, only young and unvaccinated dogs are in risk of contracting ICH nowadays.

This virus is often confused with other viral infections including tracheobronchitis (i.e., kennel cough) and parvovirus because of the similarity in clinical signs and the organ systems affected. CAV-1 is related antigenically to CAV-2 (one of the causes of kennel cough).

Symptoms Of Infectious Canine Hepatitis

  • Apathy
  • Anorexia
  • Abdominal pain (occasional)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Congestion of mucous membranes
  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Fever
  • Occasionally abdominal pain and vomiting
  • Thirst
  • Yellow, jaundiced look to skin, gums, and ears

Severe cases:

  • Discolored or reddened mouth and nose
  • Red dots on the skin
  • Swelling (head, lymph nodes, neck)
  • Slight paralysis
  • Seizures

Treatment Options For Infectious Canine Hepatitis

There is no specific treatment available for infectious canine hepatitis in dogs.

  • Immediate hospitalization and close monitoring are required as this virus, if not treated immediately, will cause death
  • Intravenous fluid and nutritional therapy will be given to help your dog not become severely dehydrated.
  • Your vet keeps your dog hydrated and only treats the symptoms while the virus runs its course.
  • Immune suppressive or anti-inflammatory medications
  • Anti-diarrhea medications
  • A broad-spectrum antibiotic for any secondary bacterial infections from occurring
  • For occasional clouding cornea in the eyes, the pain-relieving ointment may be prescribed by the vet. Take proper care that your dog’s eyes must be protected from bright light.

Home Remedies For Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Depending on the damage done by the virus and severity of the condition, understand that your dog’s physical condition may never be quite what it was.

Keep the affected dog in isolation and after they are deemed recovered for at least two more months.

Make sure that your dog gets appropriate vaccinations.

Limit the exposure of puppies to other dogs that may be infected or carrying the virus until they have completed their puppy vaccination series.

It is advisable to keep your dog’s bedding clean and sterile.

Prevention Of Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Modified-live virus (MLV) injectable vaccines are highly effective.

In addition to the canine distemper vaccinations, Your dog will normally get Attenuated CAV-1 vaccines.

Vaccinations are started in puppies of the age of 6 - 8 weeks.

Vaccination guidelines:

Check with your vet how often your dog should get hepatitis shots - it’s vital that your pups get the right vaccines at the right time.

  • CAV-1 vaccine – 3 doses given between 6-16 weeks
  • One at around 7 to 9 weeks of age
  • First booster between 11-13 weeks
  • They need to be given booster doses after 15 months
  • Then every 3 years, an intranasal booster has to be given

Live attenuated CAV-1 vaccines have produced transient corneal opacities or uveitis and the virus may be shed in the urine.

As a result, CAV-2 attenuated live virus strains are preferentially used, which provide cross-protection against CAV-1.

Affected Breeds Of Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Chihuahua, Springer Spaniel, Beagle, Maltese, West Highland White Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, Bedlington Terrier, Skye Terrier, Doberman Pinscher, Standard Poodle

Additional Facts For Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Incubation period: 4-9 days.


  • Nasal discharge, saliva, feces, urine, and blood of infected dogs.
  • The virus replicates in the tonsils (contracted through the mouth or nose)
  • Recovered dogs shed the virus in their urine for ≥6 months


  • This infection is very rare nowadays
  • Signs vary from apathy and slight fever to death
  • Bilateral corneal opacity (In ~25% of recovered dogs).


  • Young dogs have the highest mortality rate (usually it ranges from 10%–to 30%)


  • Routine immunization made this disease less common.
  • Vaccination should be continued in the places that have periodic outbreaks (from wild and feral hosts)


Acute hepatitis has a good prognosis when diagnosed early; however, chronic hepatitis has no cure.

Immune-complex reactions after recovery from the acute or subclinical disease may cause corneal clouding (“blue eye”) and/or chronic kidney lesions.

Other facts:

  • This disease is commonly seen in wolves, jackals, foxes, coyotes, lynx, bears, and also in seals.
  • Other free-ranging and captive carnivore species may become infected without any clinical illness.

When To See A Vet

Contact your vet right away, if you notice any of the following:

  • Red dots on skin combined with discolored or reddened mouth and nose
  • Yellow, jaundiced look to skin, gums, and ears
  • Swollen lymph nodes, neck, belly, and head

When you see visible signs of liver disease in your dogs, it’s clear that the condition has progressed to a developed stage.

A definitive diagnosis can be done by taking a liver biopsy to determine the type and severity of the liver disease.

Food Suggestions For Infectious Canine Hepatitis

  • Leafy greens and fresh vegetables (A big ‘NO’ to dry foods)
  • Protein (moderate levels of bioavailable protein)
  • Stick to smaller, tasty meals ( feed him 4-5 times a day)
  • Add safe dairy products (cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and yogurt)
  • Omega fats (omega-6 and omega-3 in a 4:1 ratio) and antioxidants
  • Avoid foods high in copper (organ meats)
  • Low in Phosphorus (0.2% - 1% dry matter) appropriately formulated fresh food diet
  • Regulated treats that are part of the daily calorie intake


While the best prevention is to avoid high risk locations or contact with an infected animal that is not always possible.

When potential exposure cannot be avoided, proper vaccination can prevent or reduce the symptoms, decrease the duration of the illness and prevent the spread.

Regular health checks are recommended to ensure there are no secondary infections.

Even after recovery, your dog may not be in good health for a while, be aware that it takes time to fully recover and give them enough space until your dog is back to full health.

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