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dogs sniffing each other and contracting infectious canine hepatitis

Canine Hepatitis: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention Strategies

Infectious canine hepatitis is a viral infection that mainly affects the liver - although the heart, spleen, kidneys and eyes are also at risk - of puppies and young dogs. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, with hospitalisation needed for more serious cases.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for hepatitis in dogs, so your vet will begin by treating the symptoms, and the mortality rate can be as high as 30%.Thankfully with the introduction of a vaccine, hepatitis in dogs is no longer as common as it once was.

In this article, we will look at the causes, treatments and prevention of infectious canine hepatitis and answer some most asked questions about infectious canine hepatitis.  

Brief summary 

  • Infectious canine hepatitis is a viral infection that mainly affects puppies and young dogs.  

  • There is no cure for hepatitis in dogs so prevention is key. 

  • Hepatitis in dogs is caused when a puppy or young dog comes into contact with infected saliva, pee, poo, or eye gunk. 

  • Symptoms of hepatitis in dogs include fever, abdominal pain, jaundice and bleeding gums.  

  • There is a vaccination for infectious canine hepatitis that should be given at 8-10 weeks and then again a month later. 

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What is infectious canine hepatitis? 

Infectious canine hepatitis is a viral infection caused by Canine Adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1). It is passed from dog to dog and mainly affects unvaccinated puppies and working dogs. Whilst it's harmless to people, it can also affect foxes, otters, and even bears.  

The hepatitis virus lives in the pee, poo, saliva and eye and nose mucus (gunk) of infected dogs and is spread when dogs touch, sniff or lick the infected areas. The virus survives on objects and in the environment for weeks or even months, so can be spread without direct contact with an infected dog. Even when your dog has recovered, they will continue to 'shed' or pass the virus in the pee for another six months. 

The infection attacks numerous parts of the dog, including the lining of the blood vessels, the liver, kidney, spleen, heart and lungs.  

Infectious canine hepatitis symptoms 

Infectious canine hepatitis symptoms can depend on the infection's severity. A usually healthy dog's immune system can beat the virus with only mild symptoms. In contrast, other dogs may need to go to the vet hospital for intense treatment. Even then, it may not be enough because canine hepatitis has a high mortality rate among young unvaccinated dogs.  

Knowing the signs and symptoms can be the difference between life and death. Initial symptoms of hepatitis in dogs can include: 

If the infection has spread, other signs may include: 

  • Bruised or bleeding gums 

  • Red dots on their skin 

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, gums and ears) 

  • Pale gums 

  • Seizures 

  • Collapse or even sudden death 

dog showing Infectious canine hepatitis symptoms

Causes of infectious canine hepatitis 

The most common cause of hepatitis in dogs is direct contact with an infected dog. This could be through sniffing infected poo and wee, shared saliva, or touching the infected gunk around a dog's eyes and nose. This is called direct transmission because there is close and direct contact between two dogs. If you think your dog has infectious canine hepatitis or they have been diagnosed with it, you should isolate them until the infection has gone. Your dog can still pass the virus on because it can live in their pee for six months. You obviously can't pick up your dog's pee like you can poop, so care should be taken where you walk them in the months following a positive diagnosis to keep other dogs safe. 

The secondary cause is through indirect transmission. This is where your dog picks up the virus from something other than an infected dog. The most common spreaders of indirect transmission are bedding, food and water bowls, and toys. This is because the virus that causes hepatitis is quite happy in the environment and can survive on surfaces for weeks to months. Therefore, washing all your dog's accessories regularly will help to kill the virus and aid their recovery. The virus is fairly resistant to most common disinfectants but can be killed with bleach. 

When should I see my vet? 

You should visit your vet if your dog shows any of the symptoms of infectious hepatitis, especially if they are young or unvaccinated. Early detection will make treatment more likely to be successful.  

Diagnosis of hepatitis in dogs

Quick diagnosis will give your dog the best chance of recovery, and it's important to understand what vets will do to diagnose the condition in your dog. There are two main avenues your vet will go down, clinical evaluation, which is looking at the dog's physical symptoms and wellbeing, and testing.  

Clinical evaluation

This will happen when you first take your dog to the vet after they have fallen ill. Your vet will use your dog’s symptoms, and their findings on a clinical examination to make a list of possible causes. Your vet can look for symptoms of CAV-1 which aren’t so obvious to an owner, such as a painful, enlarged liver and large lymph glands. Some more specific symptoms, such as a fever alongside a cloudy cornea, will help make a diagnosis. In contrast, others, like loss of appetite and weight, are signs of many illnesses. In most cases, the combination of symptoms and results of a physical examination will  point to infectious canine hepatitis. 

Your vet will also look at your dog's previous health, lifestyle and vaccination status. If young and unvaccinated and showing symptoms similar to those associated with hepatitis in dogs, a positive diagnosis may be reasonably straightforward to assume.  


Even if your vet is fairly confident your dog has infectious canine hepatitis, they will still do some tests to make sure, as other diseases can present with similar symptoms. Blood tests can be used to assess the level of red and white blood cells. Acute infections cause less white blood cells than usual in the blood, as they are being used to fight the disease. With canine hepatitis, there may also be evidence of poor clotting facility. A biochemical profile will show your vet how well your dog's internal organs are working. This will be key in diagnosing hepatitis because it affects the liver, spleen and heart.  

If an urgent and specific diagnosis is needed, it is possible to test the blood or urine of the dog for presence of the CAV-1 virus.  

Infectious canine hepatitis treatment 

There is, unfortunately, no specific infectious canine hepatitis treatment. Treatment generally aims to manage the symptoms and support your dog's immune system.  

Dog receiving Infectious canine hepatitis treatment

  • Fluids and nutritional support to keep the patient hydrated and fed 

  • Blood transfusions may be necessary, especially if the dog is bleeding or not able to clot properly 

  • Antibiotics may be required - canine hepatitis is caused by a virus, so won’t respond to antibiotics, but secondary bacterial infections are common 

If the infection has damaged your dog's eyes, they may require ongoing topical ointment or drops. Your vet may also recommend a specialised diet to help your dog's liver and kidneys if damaged.  

Dogs with mild symptoms have a good chance of recovery. Young puppies and those with severe symptoms have a much poorer prognosis, and the mortality rate in young, unvaccinated puppies is around 10-30%. Seeking veterinary advice is essential if you suspect canine hepatitis.  

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How to prevent hepatitis in dogs

Although there may be no cure, there is a vaccination that can help your dog from contracting hepatitis. Vaccination schedules can vary, but most will have a vaccine around 8-10 weeks, and another around 4 weeks later. 

Mothers can pass antibodies on to their puppies, which interfere with vaccination, but these gradually wane in the first couple of months of the puppy’s life, so the second vaccine at over 10 weeks old is essential to ensure the puppy is fully protected.  

After this second vaccine you can confidently say your puppy will be protected. Before you do this, you'll have to monitor what dogs your puppy interacts with and where they go. It is best to stay in and around the house and garden and only allow fully vaccinated dogs to visit. If out in public places, it is sensible to carry your puppy until they are fully vaccinated.  

After the initial round of vaccinations, a booster will be needed 12 months later. 

dog being vaccinated against infectious canine hepatitis

Common infectious canine hepatitis questions 

Can infectious canine hepatitis be fatal? 

Hepatitis in dogs can be a severe disease, and whilst most dogs will recover, the fatality rate can be as high as 30%. Unvaccinated and young puppies have the highest risk, which is why it's so important to vaccinate your dog from an early age. 

Is hepatitis in dogs contagious? 

Infectious canine hepatitis can be quickly passed from dog to dog. The virus is spread when one dog comes into contact with the infected pee, poo, saliva or eye and nose mucus (gunk) of an infected dog. The virus can also survive for months on surfaces, so disinfecting toys, bedding, and food and water bowls are essential to help stop the spread. 

What is the infectious canine hepatitis vaccine schedule? 

Your dog should have their first hepatitis vaccine between 8-10 weeks, and again four weeks later. After that, they will need a booster after 12 months and then every three years. Your vet will discuss boosters with you at your dog's first vaccination appointment. 

What do you feed a dog with hepatitis? 

Dogs with hepatitis may find it best to have a specialised diet. Your vet will guide you, but it is recommended dogs with liver issues stay on a low-fat, low-protein diet. 

Need more info?

If you need further advice on your dog’s poo, bowels, digestion or any other aspect of their health and wellbeing, have a chat with your vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.

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