How common does infectious hepatitis occur in dogs and is it serious?

Canine infectious hepatitis is a highly contagious disease that affects dogs all over the world. Although this viral infection that affects the liver and the other organs of the dog is not as common as canine diarrhea, a large number of dogs in areas where routine immunization is not practiced are affected. Infectious hepatitis is a serious disease of dogs. Severe cases of infection can result to the death of the dog hours after the symptoms are shown.

Canine infectious hepatitis is caused by the canine adenovirus type 1 (CAV-1). This virus can have potentially serious effects on the liver of the dog. The liver is one of the important organs because of the vital life functions it performs. This organ breaks down food and converts it into energy. The liver detoxifies chemicals and toxins, removes waste products from the blood and filters infections and bacteria from the blood. Humans can only survive for one or two days if the liver completely shuts down. The same thing is true with dogs.

Canine infectious hepatitis is not related to the hepatitis that afflicts humans. CAV-1 is spread among domesticated and wild dogs as well as in foxes and coyotes. This disease spread through direct contact with an infected animal or with contaminated body fluids. A dog can have this potentially serious disease if it has come in contact with food dishes and cages contaminated with nasal discharge, saliva and urine of an infected dog. The virus can be inhaled as well and can be transmitted by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. The first four to seven days after the dog was exposed to the virus is the most contagious. The virus that has proliferated will be shed through the saliva, nasal discharge, urine and feces. The virus travelling through the blood stream will cause extensive damage to the liver, kidneys, eyes and to other organs of the body.

Canine infectious hepatitis has a wide range of symptoms. The first symptoms of canine infectious hepatitis are coughing, fever and sore throat. The dog would have nasal and eye discharge. The eye discharge will appear as if the dog has conjunctivitis. Yellowing of the white part of the eyes will be noticed. The cornea will have a bluish tint so that the eyes will appear cloudy. The dog’s eyes will tear as it become sensitive to light. As the infection spreads to other organs, the dog will vomit and have diarrhea. The dog will lose appetite and suffer from abdominal pains. The dog will appear to have an enlarged stomach due to the swelling of the liver. This disease is associated with bleeding problems. The infected dog will have bleeding gums, will nosebleed and pass bloody feces. Some dogs would have hematomas and develop swollen head and neck due to subcutaneous fluids that have leaked from the damaged liver. Disorientation and seizures are symptoms of a fatal form of infectious hepatitis as these are signs of imminent death.

Physical examination, blood tests, urinalysis are the usual methods of diagnosis for this disease. Recently, the presence of the virus in the feces of an infected dog can be detected with the use of a testing kit known as ELISA. Canine infectious hepatitis has life threatening consequences. Unfortunately, this disease has no cure. With a healthy immune system, a dog can manage the disease. CIH is especially fatal to puppies because of their undeveloped immune system. Treatment is mainly supportive and usually given to control the progression of the secondary ailments like vomiting and diarrhea. Antibiotics, intravenous fluids and blood transfusion are the supportive care given as no medication can specifically treat canine infectious hepatitis. Vaccination is the only viable option that can save your pet from this potentially life threatening disease.

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