Canine hepatitis is an infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks primarily the liver and the gastrointestinal tract, although it can affect the kidneys and the brain. While it can attack dogs of all ages, puppies are more susceptible to it than older dogs. Hepatitis has an incubation period of about 1 week. Hepatitis seems to be on the increase, and for a while it was confused with distemper, since the signs appear somewhat similar. The treatment of hepatitis is a matter for the veterinarian. The disease is very serious, and it spreads rapidly to other dogs.
The virus is infectious, which means that your dog can contract it from the urine, stools, or saliva of an infected dog. You may carry the virus on your shoes and clothes. You cannot, however, catch it because canine hepatitis is not the same as human hepatitis.
Hepatitis develops very rapidly once the dog is infected. Your dog may be perfectly well one day, very ill the next. The more common symptoms are severe listlessness, extreme thirst and dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite. The temperature will be high (104°F to 105 °F), and there will be considerable abdominal tenderness as a result of the liver inflammation. The dog may even develop spasms, with his breathing becoming heavy and rapid. One of the more obvious signs is that the dogs may repeatedly hump his back or rub his belly against the floor in order to get relief from severe discomfort.
Hepatitis Virions (Source: CDC/ Dr. Erskine Palmer)
A dog suffering from hepatitis will need a lot of supportive care from his owner. After your dog returns from the hospital, you should, if necessary, force-feed him with a bland diet (chopped meat, boiled chicken or egg) to keep up his strength. Keep his eyes clear of any discharge by washing them with a good eye wash.
Canine hepatitis is not a likely occurrence if your dog has been inoculated against it. A multiple vaccination provides immunity against hepatitis, distemper, and leptospirosis, although your dog should receive booster injections throughout his life. There is no permanent immunity against hepatitis. One unusual feature of canine hepatitis is that a dog after being cured may still, for a time, spread the virus through his urine and feces. In the normal course of events, your dog may be exposed to hepatitis whenever he goes for a walk or runs around in the neighborhood. Clearly, prevention is the best possible course.