By Darlene Stott
Published: 07/21/2017, edited: 09/07/2022
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Hepatitis is a somewhat common disease that we have all heard of, yet many people are unaware of exactly what it does that makes it so dangerous. The two most common human varieties of the virus are hepatitis ‘B’ and hepatitis ‘C’, which are sexually transmitted and bloodborne. The hepatitis virus causes increasing levels of damage and inflammation to the tissue of the liver, resulting in the organ becoming less and less able to properly filter toxins out of the bloodstream and thereby causing problems with the function of other organs. Eventually, the disease can result in liver failure and death. But are dogs as badly affected by the virus as humans are?
Can dogs get hepatitis?
The canine version of the illness is called infectious canine hepatitis, which is caused by the canine adenovirus 1. If your dog comes into contact with saliva, urine, or feces of an infected dog, they can contract the virus and become ill. The lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, and the linings of blood vessels are typically affected. In serious cases, death can occur.
Thankfully, though, dogs are much less likely to contract the disease due to a thorough vaccination program almost wiping out the strains found in canines. It should also be pointed out, however, that the varieties of the virus found in humans pose no threat to dogs, as they are uniquely adapted to fighting the immune system of the human body. In the event that your dog does contract the illness from another canine, it is imperative that you keep them thoroughly isolated in order to prevent the sickness from spreading to other animals.
Does my dog have hepatitis?
While it can take a while for the hepatitis virus to start to present symptoms, the effects can be quite simple to spot once they take effect. Typically, you will notice your dog becoming increasingly more lethargic and unwilling to eat. This will then be followed by a fever and a jaundiced appearance as the liver fails to filter toxins out of the bloodstream. It is not unusual for a canine to start vomiting as a result of damage to their liver. As soon as the signs of liver failure start to appear, it is imperative that you take your companion straight to a vet, as further damage to the organ may prove fatal. In most cases, a dog will have picked up the disease by coming into contact with the saliva, urine, or excrement of another infected animal. It is this ease of transmission that makes vaccination all the more important in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
To diagnose the problem, the vet will usually perform a physical examination to confirm the animal’s symptoms, followed by a series of blood tests to isolate the virus and determine the extent of the damage to the liver. A urinalysis may be useful, as are radiographs. You can learn more about canine hepatitis by reading through our condition guide for the subject, Infectious Canine Hepatitis in Dogs.
How can I treat my dog's hepatitis?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for canine hepatitis, meaning that the best way to combat the disease is via vaccination to prevent your pet from contracting it in the first place. However, if your dog does become infected then the vet will likely start them on a treatment plan that should help suppress the worst of their symptoms until the body manages to fight off the virus. This will consist of things such as fluid therapy to dilute the toxins within the dog’s blood and to encourage their removal from the body via urination. Antibiotics will most likely be prescribed, and serious cases will require a blood transfusion.
The survival rate is promising, although older animals and very young puppies may find that their weaker immune systems are unable to cope with the strain that they will be put under. After the illness has passed, your companion will need a few weeks to recover, meaning that you will have to allow them plenty of rest as well as a bland diet in order to lessen the burden placed on the liver.
How is hepatitis similar in dogs and humans?
In many ways, the strains of the hepatitis virus can be surprisingly homogenous in terms of their effects on different species. Here are some of the main similarities that you may notice:
Some cases of hepatitis will result in the dog simply fighting the infection off on its own after a brief bout of sickness. The same applies in humans, who can often defeat the virus without needing medical help.
All animals who defeat the virus may remain infectious for some time afterward. In dogs, this period can last for around six months, during which time their bodily fluids will be contaminated.
In all animals, the primary method by which the virus will harm the patient is the induction of liver failure. This means that almost all of the symptoms (jaundice, bleeding, etc) will be roughly the same across species.
How is hepatitis different in dogs and humans?
Whilst the disease can in some ways appear similar in different animals, there are actually some key variations that should be taken into account.
Humans usually require the virus to be directly absorbed into the bloodstream (either via sexual contact or by having infected blood get into open wounds) before they can become infected. Canine hepatitis meanwhile, only requires that the dog touches infected materials in order for them to pick up the disease.
Whilst the disease is nowadays extremely rare in dogs due to past vaccination programs, it is still a large killer amongst humans. This is mainly due to the fact that the virus is easily passed amongst intravenous drug users, who may share contaminated needles.
A few days after having visited a local dog park, a Border Collie appears to fall ill with a mild stomach infection, appearing weak and becoming unwilling to eat. At first, the owner is not concerned, but when the dog starts vomiting and passing bloody diarrhea, they decide to take the animal to see a vet. At the clinic, the staff members notice that the animal is displaying the early signs of jaundice and after performing some blood tests, they find that the dog has contracted canine hepatitis.
As the dog’s condition worsens, the vet chooses to start them on antiviral therapy and also intravenously rehydrates the animal. Over the course of several days, the dog begins to recover and is ready to return home. A spate of similar cases in the area leads the vet to conclude that an animal at the dog park was responsible for spreading the disease via their urine and saliva. As some dogs are asymptomatic, there is a good chance that their owner was unaware of the problem. After a few weeks of rest, the Collie is ready to return to their normal schedule.