Hepatitis A in Dogs

When reading the word “Hepatitis,” the first thought that comes to mind is likely the infectious human disease. However, it is important to understand that Hepatitis A in humans is very different from Hepatitis A in canines.

With that knowledge, the disease is not any less scary and should be taken seriously in all cases. This article will provide an overview of Hepatitis A in dogs, common symptoms, as well as treatment methods.  

What is Hepatitis A in Dogs?

Canine hepatitis is an infectious virus that is a result of Adenovirus Type 1. This Adenovirus in dogs can create infections within the upper respiratory tract of a dog. Most commonly, the virus targets the functional parts of a dog’s organs such as his liver, kidneys, and eyes. In most cases, the virus will first present itself by way of a canine fever or congestion.

Typically, this disease will begin in the tonsils, nose, and mouth, working its way into the bloodstream to target the canine’s white blood cells. Once there, it will begin replicating and spreading throughout other vital organs in the dog’s body. Once the virus has spread, it will exit the body through the dog’s excretions. Other dogs may then come into contact with the virus through the saliva or feces of the infected dog which will only continue the cycle. At this point, the virus is contagious to other animals but never to humans.

The virus is contagious and can spread rapidly. Even though the virus can be found around the world, it is much less common in areas where vaccinations are encouraged. Depending on how healthy the dog is, these cases of Hepatitis A can range from being mild to severe, with some cases becoming fatal. Puppies and unvaccinated canines are most at risk for contracting Hepatitis A and are therefore likely to develop the most serious symptoms of the illness.

For these reasons, it is incredibly important to be educated on the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A in order to keep your dog as healthy as possible.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A in Dogs

There is a plethora of symptoms associated with this specific canine virus. A dog may start with very mild symptoms that will progressively worsen into more serious ones. Noticing any of the following signs will be essential in ensuring the health of the dog. If you notice one or more of these signs below, it is highly advised to take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Here are the most common symptoms of hepatitis in dogs:

While each of these symptoms on their own may not necessarily be linked to Hepatitis A, multiple symptoms presenting themselves at once usually points to a serious underlying health issue. However, this is rather difficult to determine unless the pet owner has professional medical training. For this reason, it is recommended to pay close attention to the canine’s behavior. If something seems off, take the dog to the veterinarian right away. This disease can work its way through your dog’s system rather quickly. If your dog does in fact have Hepatitis A, he will need medical treatment as soon as possible.

Can Hepatitis A Be Prevented?

The good news in all of this information is that a vaccine is available to prevent infectious canine hepatitis. The vaccine is referred to in the animal medical world as DHPP for dogs. This acronym stands for Distemper, Adenovirus (the H is for Hepatitis A since it is a result of contracting Adenovirus) as well as Parainfluenza, and canine Parvovirus.

DHPP is very common among veterinarian recommendations and is actually considered to be one of the core vaccines recommended for all dogs. These types of vaccines are designed to protect a dog against many different illnesses. The vaccine helps to build up the dog’s immune system and, hopefully protect him from contracting a worse form of the disease later on in life.

The DHPP vaccine is typically administered from quite an early age. The vaccine schedule for DHPP begins in the puppy’s first 6-8 weeks of his life, and continues during the weeks of 10-12, 14-16, one year later, and finally every three years following the last administration of the virus.

Vaccines are a very personal choice to be made between the pet owner and the veterinarian. If the pet owner chooses not to vaccinate the puppy, the dog is at a higher risk of contracting this disease, which can potentially lead to fatal consequences. Also failing to maintain the recommended vaccination schedule can also put your canine at risk for contracting the virus.

Diagnosing Hepatitis A

While it’s important to highlight the seriousness of this, a diagnosis of Hepatitis A does not necessarily equate to fatality. A canine diagnosed with Hepatitis A has a fighting chance at beating the virus as long as he receives medical treatment right away.

The veterinarian will start off the session by going over the dog’s past and current health history. This is the best time to inform your vet the symptoms your dog is exhibiting and any strange behavior they may be showing. If the pet owner has information about the dog’s genes, including parental health background, this will also help the vet form a proper diagnosis.

It is typical that a full medical examination will be conducted on the dog. There will likely be a series of tests and blood work conducted to determine if the canine does in fact have the disease. Various methods are available to test for the presence of the virus.

Blood tests are usually one of the first tests to be done when a dog is showing a variety of symptoms. The bloodwork will allow the veterinarian to look for impaired kidney function. If the returned blood work shows evidence of a decreased number of white blood cells and shows that the canine has liver disease, these are good indications that he has been infected. Often, an x-ray and/or ultrasound will be conducted to visually examine the liver. In some cases, a vet may also take a sample of the liver tissue to be biopsied in a laboratory. Radiographs or urine samples may also be ordered, but these will vary from clinic-to-clinic.

It is important to note that the virus can occur in any dog breed, any sex, and at any age. Hepatitis A, on average, occurs more in mid-aged to elderly dogs.

In some cases, there are specific canine breeds such as Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, German Pinschers, and Labrador Retrievers that are predisposed to developing a more chronic version of hepatitis. These breeds in particular tend to have an accumulation of copper within their liver cells, which makes them more prone to copper-storage disease. The male canines within these breeds are at a higher risk of contracting this disease. Owners of these breeds can discuss potential risks with their trusted veterinarian.

My Dog has Hepatitis A, Now What?

Once all of the appropriate tests have been conducted, the veterinarian will meet with the pet owner to discuss the results.

Even though there are no specific treatment methods, some pets can heal from the mild forms of the virus on their own. Vets will usually prescribe a treatment regimen that is focused on managing the symptoms associated with the virus as it runs its course through the canine’s body. Sometimes, antibiotics are prescribed that do not treat the virus, only ward off secondary canine bacterial infections.

During recovery, let your dog relax in a comfortable space within your home. Separate a spot of your home that will restrict the mobility of your dog while still keeping them comfortable. Some vets will recommend heated blankets or a heated fan to help reduce the dog’s symptoms.

If he suffers from clouding around his corneas, the veterinarian may prescribe an eye ointment that can alleviate some of the pain associated with this symptom. In these cases, it is also recommended to keep your dog out of direct sunlight or other bright lights.

The veterinarian may have sent the canine home with specific medication that will need to be administered to the dog. The purpose of these medications will be to regulate the more uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms such as pain or vomiting.

Medication can include common antibiotics or anti-inflammatory agents that will help eliminate the fluids that have built up in the abdomen. Other pills are designed to help prevent gastric ulcers and diuretics are prescribed to promote fluid loss. Ideally, any medicines recommended can help to treat infection, decrease swelling of the brain, and help to control possible seizures.

If the case is severe, the veterinarian may recommend the dog stay overnight, or for multiple nights under supervised medical care. During hospitalization, the dog may be given intravenous fluids. These fluids may include B vitamins, potassium, and dextrose to help with dehydration. The overnight option is especially helpful for pet owners who have a rigorous work schedule and may not be able to provide the full-time care the pet needs. At the pet hospital, there is the possibility that a blood transfusion will be recommended, particularly in late stages of Hepatitis A.

Depending on whether the canine will be recovering in the home or at the hospital, it is very likely that their diet will be changed as well. The veterinarian may recommend restricting the amount of sodium, taking on a low-protein diet, and adding in more vitamins. The dog’s appetite may weaken over the course of the virus so, rather than eating two meals per day, he will need to be encouraged to eat small amounts of food every hour or so to ensure proper nutrition. It is also possible that an intravenous tube will be needed if the dog refuses to eat. Talk to your veterinarian for recommendations or a dog nutrition checklist.

As the virus continues to make its way through the canine’s body, follow-up visits to the veterinarian’s office will be highly recommended. This is simply to monitor the progression of the disease. Even dogs who have recovered from the virus will continue to shed the disease in their urine for at least six months.

It is important to understand that there is a possibility of long-term kidney damage to the canine as well. The previously mentioned clouding around the cornea of the dog’s eye is also a long-term symptom, commonly referred to as blue eye, which is an outcome of the disease attacking the immune system.

Just remember, all of this can be prevented if the dog is vaccinated. If your pup has not been vaccinated, it’s critical that you are able to spot the signs and symptoms as soon as they arise. One you are able to do so, you’ll be able to give your dog the treatment he needs as quickly as possible.


  1. “Liver Inflammation (Chronic) in Dogs.” PetMD, www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_dg_hepatitis_chronic_active.
  2. “Protect Your Dog From Hepatitis.” The Spruce Pets, www.thesprucepets.com/about-hepatitis-in-dogs-3384616.
  3. “Hepatitis in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment.” Animal Wised, www.animalwised.com/hepatitis-in-dogs-969.html.



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