Increase in canine hepatitis has organisations urging pet owners to vaccinate

Pet owners have been urged to vaccinate their dogs against canine hepatitis, as the disease can be fatal to their furbabies. Picture: Supplied / TEARS

Pet owners have been urged to vaccinate their dogs against canine hepatitis, as the disease can be fatal to their furbabies. Picture: Supplied / TEARS

Published Apr 24, 2024


The TEARS Animal Rescue has urged pet owners to have their animals vaccinated against the infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) disease.

According to the organisation, there has been an increase in laboratory-confirmed cases of ICH and a 95% death rate in unvaccinated animals or if they receive the treatment too late.

ICH, which does not affect humans, is a fatal disease affecting dogs. It is caused by canine adenovirus 1 (CAV-1), which occurs worldwide and is most commonly found in the environment because it can last up to three months in ideal conditions.

The organisation urges pet owners to speak to their local vets regarding the risks to their pets and confirm if their vaccinations are up to date.

Head veterinarian at TEARS, Dr Tania Heuer said a lack of compliance from many pet owners has been noted.

“We have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent the spread of the disease and limit the negative impact in our communities and the unnecessary suffering of animals.

“While vaccination has been successful at reducing the prevalence of this disease, once it occurs in a community, it’s extremely challenging to manage the spread and prevention of the disease.

“The vaccine for ICH forms part of TEARS’ community vaccination programmes, but we continue to see a general lack of compliance from many community pet owners because of our mandatory sterilisation and vaccination requirement. Puppies are most at risk, but older dogs can also contract the disease if not vaccinated,” Heuer said.

The incubation period takes between two to five days but can take up to 14 days to manifest.

The virus is present in the urine, nose and eye discharges of infected animals, with transmission occurring by direct contact with these infected materials between animals. Symptoms of the disease range from mild to severe and can be non-specific or even indistinguishable from, for example, "kennel cough".

Lethargy, increased thirst, no appetite, coughing with nose and eye discharge, red eyes (conjunctivitis), abdominal pain, oedema (the swelling of soft tissues due to fluid accumulation), vomiting (including vomiting blood), yellow mucous membranes, and signs of internal bleeding due to liver necrosis (cell death) are commonly seen.

Prognosis is poor if the animal’s symptoms have developed to the point of liver failure and internal bleeding. Dogs that recover from the disease will continue to shed (spreading the virus in the environment) via their urine for another six months.

“The TEARS Veterinary Hospital is seeing more of these cases which indicates that there is a worrying re-emergence of this disease in our communities. We suspect that this is largely due to the reduction of administering routine vaccines during and post the Covid-19 lockdown, and because of pet owner complacency when it comes to ensuring puppies and adult dogs receive their required vaccines,” Heuer said.

Last month, the TEARS Veterinary Hospital and mobile clinics vaccinated 641 community pets as part of its welfare mandate. Protection lasts for months but decreases with time and adult booster vaccination is required.