Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH) is a highly contagious viral infection which affects the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, and eyes in dogs. It can be found worldwide, but is uncommon in areas where dogs are routinely vaccinated. It’s severity ranges widely from very mild cases to very serious – often fatal. Young dogs and unvaccinated dogs are at the highest risk of being infected with the virus. Puppies less than 1 year old, seem to be most at risk.

ICH is caused by a virus called the canine adenovirus-1 or (CAV-1).  This virus is a resilient and able to survive outside of a host for weeks or even months. Disinfection of contaminated areas with a bleach or iodine solution can help to destroy the virus.

A dog can contract CAV-1 virus through direct contact with infected saliva, urine or feces via either its mouth or nose. Even a dog dish that has been licked clean can carry the virus. The incubation period can last 4-9 days, after which the virus enters the bloodstream. The tonsils and lymph nodes are the first body parts effected.

In acute cases, a dog will experience vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. The disease can also cause swollen lymph nodes, pale gums, and yellowish eyes. If the dog’s liver also swells up, they may stop eating. Dogs with the mild form of ICH usually recover after a week or so.

In more severe cases, a dog can develop a biphasic fever for up to 6 days, pass bloody diarrhea or bloody vomit, tuck up its belly from pain associated with the liver, become sensitive to light, or refuse to eat. Since severe damage is being done to the liver, it can also result in a coma or seizures. Death can occur within a few hours and veterinary attention should be sought ASAP.

Various methods are available to test for the presence of the virus causing ICH, or the presence of antibodies to the virus, such as blood tests, radiographs or urine tests.

There is no specific treatment for ICH, the aim is to manage the symptoms until the virus runs its course. In mild cases, the dog will require intravenous fluids to combat dehydration that can be brought on by the diarrhea or vomiting. Antibiotics don’t treat the virus but may be prescribed to ward off secondary bacterial infections. In severely ill dogs, blood transfusions may be necessary to replenish lost blood. The cloudiness of the eye will usually take care of itself, but an ointment may be given to relieve your dog from eye pain and light sensitivity. A fasting period, followed by a light diet consisting of small, frequent meals is advisable.

Even after recovery, a dog can shed the virus in its urine for up to 9-12 months. The liver normally completely recovers, but long-term kidney damage and prolonged eye cloudiness or glaucoma may result as a delayed inflammation response.

Care should be taken with young or unvaccinated dogs.  Public places, dogs outside your household, or dirty food bowls that are left outside could all harbor the virus. Keep an eye on your dog during walks to ensure he/she does not consume urine or feces.

Vaccination is the most common method of preventing ICH. It is usually mixed with the distemper and parvo vaccine given to puppies within the first months of life. The need for annual revaccination should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Natural remedies are available, of course, guidance should be sought from a trained natural health-care professional. There is no cure for ICH, but most dogs will recover on their own if they are healthy and well cared for.