Infectious Hepatitis (Adenovirus) in dogs

isolated dog

Overview

  • Infectious hepatitis is a serious disease also known as ‘canine adenovirus’ or ‘Rubarth’s Disease’.
  • It affects the liver and other major organs, which causes a range of symptoms.
  • Your dog can catch infectious hepatitis from contact with an infected dog, or somewhere an infected dog has been.
  • Young, unvaccinated dogs are most at risk of catching infectious hepatitis.
  • Vaccinate your puppy to protect them from infectious hepatitis.

What is Infectious hepatitis?

Infectious hepatitis is a virus that attacks the liver, blood vessels, immune system, kidneys, eyes, lungs, and heart - the more organs that are affected the more serious the symptoms.

Infectious hepatitis spreads in bodily fluids i.e. urine, stools and saliva. Most dogs catch infectious hepatitis from an infected dog, or somewhere an infected dog has been.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent infectious hepatitis.

Symptoms

If your dog has caught infectious hepatitis, their symptoms will vary depending on how severely the virus attacks. A mild case may only cause mild illness for a few days but a severe case can cause as a whole range of symptoms.

Symptoms include:

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet if you notice any of the symptoms of infectious hepatitis in your dog, particularly if they are young and unvaccinated.

You know your dog - if they don’t have the symptoms listed, but you are still concerned, it’s always best to contact your vet.

Diagnosis

Your vet may suspect infectious hepatitis if you puppy/dog is unvaccinated and has the symptoms above. They may want to take blood samples and/or other samples to make sure.

Treatment

There is no treatment to cure infectious hepatitis virus, instead, your vet will support your dog to give him/her the best possible chance of recovery. This often includes hospitalisation, various medicines, a fluid drip, and sometimes a blood transfusion.

Outlook

A dog with a mild case of infectious hepatitis has a good chance of surviving if they receive prompt treatment from a vet. A dog with a more severe infection is much less likely to survive; sadly, dogs with severe infectious hepatitis often die quickly or need to be put to sleep to stop them from suffering.

Dogs that survive infectious hepatitis are often a risk to other dogs because they shed the virus in their urine for 6-9 months after recovery. The virus can then survive in the environment for months. This is why vaccination is so important; it protects your dog from the invisible risks that other dogs can pose.

Prevention

Vaccination. Vaccinate and stay up to date with boosters to protect your dog from infectious hepatitis.

Puppy safety. Vaccination has led to infectious hepatitis becoming much rarer than it used to be, but an unvaccinated puppy is still at risk. Don’t let your puppy meet other dogs or walk on the ground in public places until they have had their puppy injections (your vet will give you specific timings).

Cost

Treatment for infectious hepatitis can become very expensive. Consider insuring your dog as soon as you get them, before any signs of illness start. This will ensure you have all the support you need to care for them.

It’s also very important to speak openly to your vet about your finances, the cost of treatment, as well as what you think is right for your dog. There are often several treatment options so if one doesn’t work for you and your pet then the vet may be able to offer another.

Published: July 2019

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.

Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst