Infectious Canine Hepatitis

Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is a disease caused by the canine adenovirus 1, an organism found worldwide and known for its stability outside its host (it can survive up to two weeks in the environment!).

The virus is shed in all body excretions, and can be found in the urine of a recovered dog for up to six months. Direct contact with an infected dog, which typically is under one year of age and unvaccinated, is the primary method of disease transmission.

As the name implies, once this virus enters the body, it can cause severe inflammation in the liver. ICH does not, however, stop there. Other organ systems, including the eyes and kidneys, can be affected and damaged as well.

Loss of appetite, depression, and fever, sometimes reaching 106 degrees Fahrenheit, are initial symptoms seen. Enlargement of the tonsils and other lymph nodes occurs as the virus multiplies in these regions. And as the liver is attacked, abdominal pain and jaundice become evident. Finally, inflammation of the blood vessels within the body can lead to clotting problems and internal bleeding.

A unique lesion characterisitic of infectious canine hepatitis can develop later as the disease progresses. This is known as "blue eye". It's called that because one or both eyes can take on a blue appearance due to fluid build-up and inflammation within the eye(s).

Diagnosis of infectious canine hepatitis is based upon the age of the animal involved, vaccination history, and laboratory analysis of  the blood, which usually demostrates elevated liver enzyme levels, low white blood cell counts, and increased clotting times. Biopsy samples might reveal the actual presence of the virus within the tissue itself, although this diagnostic approach is rarely taken.

Treatment aims include preventing secondary complications, including bacterial infections, and giving intravenous fluids to combat dehydration. In severe cases, blood transfusions could be required. Even when vigorous therapy is instituted, prognosis for recovery remains very guarded in the majority of cases.

This is one disease that can easily be prevented through vaccination. Puppies should receive a complement of three vaccines given one month apart starting at 8 weeks of age, with a booster administered periodically based upon your veterinarian's recommendation for your individual pet.

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