Hepatitis (Rubarth’s disease)

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH), formerly known as Rubarth’s disease, is an acute (severe but of short duration) liver infection in dogs caused by the virus canine adenovirus Type 1 (CAV-1) and is also seen in foxes in Europe, although other carnivores may become infected without developing clinical illness. Chronic hepatitis is the most common liver disease in dogs which can result from many different disease processes, meaning that at some point there has been inflammation in the liver and possibly necrosis (cell death).


A hyperacute form of the disease can be presented in puppies under 3 weeks, with symptoms including sudden abdominal pain followed by death within a few hours, however this form is very rare nowadays and most dogs normally recover after just a brief illness.

Symptoms often include:

  • A fever
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice
  • An enlarged liver
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • A milky or cloudy blue appearance in the eyes


In most cases of canine hepatitis, the cause is unknown. Acute forms of the disease are possibly caused by chemicals, drugs, viral infection, and mycotoxins (toxins produced by moulds and fungi) which affect the liver. It can occur in any breed of dog at any age, male or female, although most dogs are middle-aged or older.

The virus can be spread from dog to dog through contact with contaminated urine or faeces and through contact with the blood or saliva of infected dogs. It’s severity ranges widely from very mild cases, to very serious and sometimes fatal. The mortality rate ranges from 10%-30% is typically higher in young, unvaccinated dogs.

There is no risk of transmission of hepatitis between dogs and humans. The form that dogs can get is not the same as the human version (Hepatitis B or C).

Prevention and treatment

There is no specific treatment for ICH, therefore prevention through vaccinations is essential. If your dog contracts the disease, hospitalisation and IV fluid therapy may be necessary depending on the severity of illness.

Fortunately, thanks to vaccinations, the disease has been largely eliminated and has greatly reduced the incidence of this disease in the UK, and in recent years the disease has become less common in areas worldwide where routine vaccinations are carried out.

The first injections administered for infectious canine hepatitis will not cover dogs permanently, therefore it’s important to ensure that your puppy is given booster injections throughout their life. Your puppy will need to have another booster at 15 months and then every year afterwards to ensure they remain vaccinated against the infection.

Contact your vet or speak to a Joii vet, free of charge to every Animal Friends customer with a dog insurance policy, and they will be able to help you choose a vaccination program to best suit your puppy’s needs.

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