Canine Hepatitis Can Be Prevented

Canine hepatitis (or CAV-1) is a very serious condition caused by a highly infectious virus that affects a dog’s liver. CAV-1 can develop extremely quickly in especially puppies. The virus is transmitted through the blood, nasal discharge, saliva, urine, or faeces of infected dogs and is highly contagious.

The good news is that canine hepatitis can be prevented and it is therefore extremely important that dogs get the necessary vaccines at the right age.

Puppies should be vaccinated at 8, 12 and 16 weeks, but we only vaccinate against certain disease from 12 weeks, due to maternal protection, including Rabies. “TAH’s puppy vaccinations do, however, contain adenovirus type 1 (hepatitis). We vaccinate against it from 8 weeks, boost the vaccine at 12 weeks and then solidify protection at 16 weeks,” explains Dr Omar Mehar of TAH Somerset West.

“We recommend an annual booster, especially in high-risk areas. It is important to speak to your vet about your pet and your area’s risk profile and agree on a vaccine schedule for your pet,” he adds. Your vet will be able to help you choose a vaccination programme best suited to the needs of your puppy, depending on where they’ll be spending time and the activities they’ll be doing, as well as the general health of your puppy.

A puppy or dog with infectious canine hepatitis can show any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • An enlarged liver
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bruising of the skin
  • Red dots on the skin
  • Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes

You will need to contact your vet immediately if your puppy displays any of these symptoms. The vet will usually perform blood tests, to start with, and antibody tests and immuno-fluorescence scanning can also be done to determine whether your puppy is infected. The best course of treatment will be recommended, based on the results of those tests.

The blood tests are usually a more expensive option to determine the illness, but is usually the quicker option (to get results) and could save your pet’s life in certain cases. Some of the symptoms overlap with that of other illnesses and a blood test will be able to quickly determine the root cause of your pet feeling unwell.

In a healthy dog with an adequate antibody response, most organs will clear in 10-14 days while the dog is being treated but will remain localised in the kidneys, where the virus will continue to be shed in the urine for 6-9 months. Treatment is usually symptomatic and varies according to each patient.

“These animals need intensive care which includes drips, antibiotics, pain control and antiemetics, as a minimum treatment. The worst cases would need blood or plasma transfusions and, if they get encephalopathy (the liver doesn’t work well at filtering out toxins which affect the brain), they may need even more medication to control the illness,” explains Dr Mehtar.

“As with all these types of conditions, it is very difficult to predict total costs. Conservatively a consultation, tests, drip and medication to treat canine hepatitis can be a minimum of between R6000 and R10 000, compared to the cost of three vaccines. It is clear that it is much better, easier, safer and cheaper to properly vaccinate as part of a dog’s preventative healthcare plan,” Dr Mehtar adds.

“Mortality rates in dogs with canine hepatitis range from 10-30% and such a death can certainly be prevented by vaccinations. One always has to remember that prevention is better than cure!” he concludes.

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