Infectious diseases

Infectious Canine Hepatitis - Symptoms and Treatment

María Besteiros
By María Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. August 18, 2022
Infectious Canine Hepatitis - Symptoms and Treatment

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Canine infectious hepatitis (ICH) is an acute liver infection in dogs caused by canine mastadenovirus A. It is a highly contagious viral disease transmitted through the mouth or nose, where it replicates in the tonsils. Fortunately, widespread vaccination programs have greatly reduced the number of infected dogs. The vaccine, ICH, is part of an important combination vaccine for dogs.

The following AnimalWised article explains everything you need to know about infectious canine hepatitis, its symptoms, treatment, and prevention.


  1. What is infectious hepatitis in dogs?
  2. Symptoms of infectious hepatitis in dogs
  3. Diagnosis and treatment of infectious hepatitis in dogs
  4. Prevention of infectious hepatitis in dogs

What is infectious hepatitis in dogs?

ICH is a highly contagious virus caused by canine adenovirus 1 (CAV -1) that affects dogs and some wild animals, including wolves, coyotes, and bears. Although hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver, ICH can affect multiple organ systems, including the lungs, gastrointestinal system, kidneys, and central nervous system. ICH can also cause eye problems and clotting disorders.

When the virus comes into contact with the dog, it multiplies in the dog's tissues and is excreted with all body secretions. Thus, infectious hepatitis can be transmitted to other dogs through the urine, feces, or saliva of sick dogs.

It is a disease that, as the name suggests, affects the liver, but also the kidneys and blood vessels. The clinical picture that the dog shows can be that of a mild infection, but usually it quickly progresses to a much more serious infection. The consequences can be fatal.

Canine distemper is another common and deadly infectious disease of dogs. Canine distemper affects the dog's digestive tract and respiratory system. In more severe cases, it can also attack the dog's nervous system. Learn more about this disease in this other article about canine distemper virus.

Symptoms of infectious hepatitis in dogs

The signs of ICH are similar to those of other common infectious diseases in dogs, and the severity depends on the immune system of the infected dog. Signs may appear two to five days after exposure to ICH and depend on the organ system affected.

If mild, the only symptoms may be a decrease in appetite and apathy or a decrease in normal activity. When the infection is acute, we will distinguish clinical signs such as the following:

  • High fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Photophobia
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Eye and nasal discharge

It is also possible to observe a shrunken abdomen due to pain caused by liver inflammation, spontaneous bleeding in the gums or skin in hairless areas, and jaundice, i.e., a yellowish coloration of the skin and mucous membranes.

But even in dogs that recover, a so-called black eye or interstitial keratitis, i.e., a kind of cloud on the cornea, may appear. It affects one or both eyes and usually disappears spontaneously within a few days.

Continue reading this other article if you want to learn more about other common liver diseases in dogs, their symptoms and treatment.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis - Symptoms and Treatment - Symptoms of infectious hepatitis in dogs

Diagnosis and treatment of infectious hepatitis in dogs

Your dog needs to be examined by a veterinarian if he shows signs of ICH. Diagnosis is based on your dog's medical history, clinical signs and possible exposure to ICH.

A serologic test to detect CAV -1 antibodies or a PCR test to detect viral particles in saliva, secretion, or urine samples from an infected dog will provide a definitive diagnosis.

Other diagnostic tests may include a complete blood count to detect secondary infections or concomitant diseases, and a serum biochemical test to assess organ function. Coagulation tests may also be recommended to detect problems with blood clotting.

Advanced imaging tests, such as x-ray or ultrasound, may be used to evaluate an enlarged liver or the presence of fluid in the abdomen. In some cases, a liver biopsy may be needed for further diagnosis.

There is no cure for ICH infection. Dogs that receive immediate veterinary care may recover, but recovered animals may have lifelong kidney or eye problems. Most dogs require hospitalization for supportive care. Antibiotics are used to prevent secondary bacterial infections, and medications are used to treat the symptoms that develop. The dog will need to rest, and their food intake will be monitored.

Treatment of ICH may require long-term hospitalization for your pet, in addition to lifelong veterinary monitoring for kidney and eye problems. Unfortunately, many die even if they are well cared for.

Prevention of infectious hepatitis in dogs

Advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in your pets living longer, healthier lives. In addition, pet vaccination programs around the world have greatly reduced your dog's chances of contracting dangerous infectious diseases, such as canine infectious hepatitis. During your dog's puppyhood, your veterinarian will recommend a series of basic vaccinations to ensure that your dog's immune system can fight off common dog diseases.

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is one of your dog's primary vaccines. Although ICH is now rarely seen due to widespread dog vaccination programs, puppies and adult dogs that are not vaccinated are at risk of contracting this potentially deadly virus. In addition, dogs that recover from ICH can have lifelong kidney and eye problems.

Guidelines state that puppies should receive their first ICH vaccination at 6 weeks of age, followed by booster shots every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Adult dogs should receive booster vaccinations every three years.

In addition, do not socialize your dog with other dogs until they are fully vaccinated. Use caution when walking or staying in wooded areas, and avoid your dog's contact with wild animals or wildlife droppings to avoid accidental infection.

Prevention is based on vaccination. Most current vaccines contain adenovirus type 2, which protects against canine infectious hepatitis and canine infectious laryngotracheitis.

If you want to know more about the vaccinations your dog needs for a healthy life, do not miss this other article where we explain the vaccination schedule for puppies and dogs

Infectious Canine Hepatitis - Symptoms and Treatment - Prevention of infectious hepatitis in dogs

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Infectious Canine Hepatitis - Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Infectious diseases category.

  • Carlson and Giffin. 2002. Canine Veterinary Practice Manual. Madrid. Editorial el Drac.
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Infectious Canine Hepatitis - Symptoms and Treatment