Understanding Canine Herpes Simplex Virus: Type 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2)

Canine herpes virus (CHV), which has a unique immunological relationship to the herpes simplex virus, causes mild symptoms in adult dogs, but is the leading cause of death in newborn puppies. CHV carriers may harbor the virus for life, but remain asymptomatic. Male and female canine herpes virus carriers may infect one another. Female carriers may transmit CHV to their offspring. Canine herpes virus is common worldwide, with one in two dogs having been exposed to CHV. Risk of contracting CHV is increased in crowded and stressful living conditions.

How CHV Is Transmitted in Adult Dogs

CHV lives in a dog's respiratory system, as well as vaginal secretions of females and semen of males. Adult dogs may contract CHV in the following ways:

  • By inhaling airborne CHV
  • By mating with a dog infected with CHV
  • By eating materials infected with CHV

Symptoms of CHV in Adult Dogs

Most adult dogs with CHV exhibit few symptoms if any, which do not linger. Here are the signs of CHV to watch for in your adult dog:

  • Upper respiratory problems
  • Mouth, face, genital sores and ulcers
  • Re-absorption or abortion of fetuses
  • Stillborn fetuses

Treatment of CHV in Adult Dogs

Treatment of CHV in adult dogs consists primarily of letting the virus run its course, while making sure your dog gets plenty of rest and tender loving care.

How CHV Is Transmitted in Puppies

Puppies may contract CHV in the following ways:

  • In utero, as the virus is able to cross the placenta
  • While traveling through the birth canal
  • By breathing infected air while nursing or laying beside other infected puppies
  • By eating infected materials

CHV Symptoms in Puppies

Once roughly three weeks old, puppies may have acquired adequate natural defenses to fight off CHV in mother's milk. Before that, a CHV infection causes rapid decline and death in most puppies. Here are the symptoms of CHV in puppies:

  • Lack of interest in nursing
  • Constant whining
  • Tenderness and pain in the tummy
  • Green, yellowish stools
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Runny noses and eyes
  • Internal and external hemorrhaging
  • Seizures

Treatment of Puppies with CHV

Heroic life-saving measures-like giving oxygen, as well as inserting feeding tubes and IVs-afford only temporary and minimal relief. Some puppies have survived after receiving blood containing CHV antibodies or taking an antiviral drug, vidarabine. Some veterinarians are opposed to treating puppies with CHV, due to the inevitable suffering associated with lifelong health problems, like profound heart and nerve damage.

Diagnosis of CHV in Adult Dogs and Puppies

Here are the tests your vet will use to diagnose CHV in your dog:

  • Blood cultures to detect CHV antibodies.
  • Mouth cultures, to test for living CHV or CHV-related proteins
  • Vaginal cultures, to test for living CHV or CHV-related proteins
  • Post-mortem testing on aborted fetuses and puppies

Preventing a CHV Outbreak in Dog Populations

Standard measures of CHV prevention include the following:

  • Isolation and quarantine
  • Wiping down dogs' environs with bleach or alcohol
  • Washing your hands with disinfectant soap after handling dogs
  • Keeping dogs on a short leash, head away from the floor or ground, where infected objects may be located
  • Not allowing dogs to share food, water, personal items
  • Following strict, well-monitored breeding protocols

Preventing CHV Infection in Puppies

Preventing CHV infection in adult dogs will in turn prevent CHV infection in puppies. At home, follow strict sanitation procedures as well. Also make sure your dog gets enough sunlight, as CHV cannot survive prolonged exposure to heat.