What Are the Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs

By Max. D Gray. Updated: August 3, 2017
What Are the Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs

Canine viral hepatitis is one of the diseases that your dog can suffer from. This condition bears no relation to human hepatitis and is a disease that only affects dogs. Canine hepatitis is a disease that is increasingly rare due to vaccines, but it is contagious and can sometimes be fatal in puppies that have not been vaccinated. In this OneHowTo article we explain what the causes of hepatitis in dogs are.

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Canine viral hepatitis was formerly known under the name of Rubarth's disease and is caused by adenovirus type 1. It is a virus that only affects foxes and dogs throughout Europe. This is the underlying cause of hepatitis and the main source of infection is through the ingestion of saliva, faeces or urine from other infected dogs. When a dog is recovering from this disease, they can expel the virus for longer than 6 months through their urine. It is a very strong virus that is resistant to a large number of disinfectant products and it can survive in an environment for many weeks.

What Are the Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs - Step 1

When a puppy contracts this virus, it can die quickly. If it is surrounded by a lot of dogs, the possibility of infection is very high. If an infected puppy is introduced to a new group of dogs, this can unleash a particularly virulent outbreak. So prevention through vaccination is key so that the disease does not spread, especially where a lot of dogs live together. Canine viral hepatitis first affects the lymphatic tissue in the head and then moves to the organs, where the liver is usually affected the most. When a dog becomes infected, the possibility of death is quite high, even with treatment.

What Are the Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs - Step 2

It is very important to watch for signs of hepatitis symptoms in dogs. They can range from very mild to very severe, causing sudden death. In the event that severe pain manifests in the abdomen in very young puppies, they could die in a few hours. However, if a young dog has been bred responsibly, they can usually benefit from temporary protection inherited from the mother (if it has been vaccinated), so this strain of the disease is rare. Take a look at our article on how to treat hepatitis in dogs in order to do so properly.

In the initial phase of the disease, it is often perceived as a lethargic state. During the test, the veterinarian will notice a raised temperature, blotches on the mucous membranes and swollen glands under the jaw and throat. If your pet is suffering from acute tonsillitis, consult a vet immediately because this is not common. Once it reaches this point, the picture may evolve rapidly until your dog has diarrhea, vomiting and a loss of appetite.


It is also possible that your pet only contracts a mild form of the disease, by presenting a slight fever, some diarrhea and swollen glands.

The reality is that there are variations in the clinical picture. Sometimes seizures can occur which can affect a diagnosis and can be confused with distemper. It is also possible that canine viral hepatitis and distemper can occur simultaneously. Many dogs suffer from a condition called corneal edema. This usually appears 10 days after the first symptoms, although it will depend on the strain of virus. When this happens, the eye takes on a bluish and murky colour after the formation of edema.


If you are a responsible owner, you have to prevent this disease. Canine viral hepatitis is one of the first vaccines given to puppies and is a part of their annual booster vaccine. These vaccines usually contain CAV-2 strain, which protects against certain strains of kennel cough and also prevents the formation of corneal edema. Your veterinarian will assess the vaccination protocol that best suits your pet's requirements.

In the event that your dog has this disease, it is important to take care when feeding them and follow the recommendations in our article on what can a dog with hepatitis eat.

What Are the Causes of Hepatitis in Dogs - Step 5

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