Dog Manual

Infectious Canine Hepatitus

Infectious canine hepatitis refers to a type of inflammation of the liver of dogs that can be transmitted from one dog to another. Until a few years ago it was considered to be merely a modified form of distemper, but now it is recognized as a distinct disease. The germ that causes it is identical with one that causes a peculiar brain inflammation in foxes, timber wolves, coyotes, and bears.

Among domestic animals, it is exclusively a dog disease. It is not transmissible to man. The disease occurs throughout the world, and it affects dogs of all ages all through the year. Very young puppies, between about five and eight weeks old, seem to be especially susceptible to it, though it is also very common in older dogs.

The average mortality rate is about twenty-five per cent, and very young puppies seem to die from it much more often than older animals. It is estimated that about fifty per cent of all dogs have had the disease before they are one year old. It is thus an important disease, and if it is even vaguely suspected, no attempt at home treatment should be made. It is strictly a veterinary problem in which only the highest skill and most meticulous care of the veterinarian can bring about favorable results.

The disease is caused by a filterable virus and it is spread from dog to dog only by direct contact with the saliva, vomited material, stool, or urine of affected animals. The disease is not carried in the air as is the distemper germ, for experiments have shown that if a dog affected with the disease is confined in a cage, it cannot transmit it to its healthy companion in a cage six inches away. The disease appears very suddenly, for when susceptible dogs are exposed to the infection symptoms will appear very dramatically within only a few hours to a couple of days. The progress of the disease is equally rapid. Most dogs will either recover or die within a couple of weeks after symptoms appear, and many will succumb within a few days or even within a few hours. A dog that recovers from the disease is capable of transmitting it to susceptible dogs by means of the urine for a period of as long as six and a half months.

Dogs with infectious canine hepatitis show extreme distress, a loss of appetite, and very often an intense thirst. The temperature may rise to as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit; but later it decreases, and if the animal is going to die, the temperature will fall well below the normal of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Vomiting and diarrhea are extremely common in this disease, and very often the stool becomes amply tinged with blood. Many affected animals moan in pain, especially when pressure is applied to the abdomen. The eye membranes often become reddened and the eyes may tear copiously.

The lining membranes of the mouth are usually pale and the tonsils and throat area are red and swollen. From the practical standpoint, the pet owner should always be on guard whenever there is a sudden appearance of vomit┬Čing and diarrhea combined with inflamed throat and tonsils. Whenever this occurs, infectious canine hepatitis should be suspected and the animal should be taken immediately to a veterinarian. Affected animals will often show soft, painless swellings of the head, neck, and the lower part of the abdomen. Nervous symptoms are seldom seen. When they do take place, the animal shows spasms of the neck and legs, and once in a while there will be paralysis of the hind legs. As indicated, the entire course of the disease may last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks. In general, it may be said that it is much more likely that the disease will last longer in older dogs than in very young puppies.

Specific treatment of infectious canine hepatitis is ineffective. The veterinarian merely treats the symptoms. However, if an animal recovers from an attack of the disease, it develops a solid immunity to it that is presumed to be permanent. An immune serum is now available that is reported to have negligible curative and limited preventive properties. It has also been claimed in some quarters that the injection of canine distemper serum will temporarily prevent hepatitis in healthy animals. This is highly questionable.

As for prevention, infectious canine hepatitis immune serum confers a temporary immunity that lasts about two weeks. There is also a combined distemper and hepatitis serum which can simultaneously confer a temporary immunity against both distemper and hepatitis. A recently developed hepatitis vaccine confers permanent protection after a single injection. It is recommended that all dogs be vaccinated against infectious canine hepatitis after they are nine weeks of age.

In recent years, a new vaccine has been produced which confers a permanent immunity against both distemper and infectious canine hepatitis in a single injection. This vaccination is most commonly administered to puppies at any age over nine weeks. It has proven quite successful and has rapidly become the favorite method of a great many veterinarians.