Dog: Infectious Hepatitis

General information

Other common/scientific names: infectious canine hepatitis, ICH


Infectious canine hepatitis is caused by the canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1) which is found worldwide. In recent years, the disease has become uncommon due to effective vaccination.

While all dogs are at risk of acquiring ICH, most cases in the US involve puppies or young dogs. Maternal (from the mother) immunity begins to wan at four months of age, leaving a puppy vulnerable to ICH if not vaccinated.


Infectious hepatitis is spread through the urine, feces or saliva of infected dogs. Contaminated cages, bedding, dishes, hands and shoes can also be a source of transmission. The virus is ingested and settles in the tonsils and lymph nodes of the throat. From the lymph nodes, the virus moves into the blood stream causing a viremia and then invades the liver, kidneys, eyes, spleen and lungs.

Infectious hepatitis has an incubation period of 4-9 days.

Cardinal symptom



Clinical signs can vary from a slight fever to death and will depend on which organ the virus infects. Other clinical signs include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and swelling of the head and neck. This virus can cause low white blood cell counts and inability of the blood to clot resulting in hemorrhage. The canine hepatitis virus can cause the dog’s own immune system to become over-reactive resulting in the formation of immune complexes. These complexes can be deposited in the cornea resulting in a cloudy or blue appearance. Chronic hepatitis may develop in some dogs.


Diagnosis of ICH can be difficult since the clinical signs are not specific. Based on the history and physical examination, tests can be performed and sent to a laboratory for virus confirmation.


There is no specific treatment or drug available to kill the virus in infected dogs. Dogs with ICH may need to be hospitalized for supportive care. Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections and medications to reduce vomiting and diarrhea are used. Blood transfusions may be necessary in severely ill dogs. Other medications which provide antibodies and stimulate the bone marrow are occasionally used. These medications are costly and used more commonly in specialty clinics and teaching universities. Sick dogs should be kept warm, receive good nursing care and hygiene and be isolated from other dogs.


Prognosis depends on the severity of clinical signs. Dogs showing mild signs have a good chance for recovery. Severe cases can result liver damage and long term illness.


Puppies should be vaccinated for hepatitis beginning at 6 to 8 weeks of age and boostered every 2 to 4 weeks until 16 weeks of age. After the initial puppy series, an annual vaccine is recommended. Subsequent vaccination boosters are given every 1 to 3 years depending on your veterinarian’s recommendation. Canine hepatitis vaccination is most commonly included in a combined vaccine with canine parvovirus, canine parainfluenza, canine distemper, Leptospirosis and coronavirus.

Click here for more information on canine vaccinations.


The canine hepatitis virus can survive outside the dog for weeks to month. Because of this, contaminated objects should be disinfected with bleach to kill the virus.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
Join the discussion!
- This article has no comments yet -

The information offered by enpevet Ltd. is intended solely for information purposes and and does under no circumstances replace a personal consultation, examination or diagnosis through a veterinarian. Thus, the information serves as an addition to the dialogue between pet owner and veterinarian, but can never replace the visit to the veterinarian. enpevet® would like to ask all users, whose animals have health concerns, to see a veterinarian as required. If you have any questions regarding the health of your animal, we recommend that you turn to your trusted veterinarian , instead of starting, changing or breaking off treatments on your own. The content of enpevet® cannot and should not be used for making your own diagnoses or for the selection and application of treatment methods.