Infectious Disease - Herpes Virus


Herpes virus in dogs

Question: Hi Dr. Mike, I would like to know about herpes virus in dogs, Is it true that the bitch has to be exposed to the virus for the first time in the last three weeks of gestation or first three weeks after whelping for the puppies to succumb to the disease? also should this bitch be bred again and will the stud dog be infected?

Answer: It is true that herpes virus infection in the last three weeks of pregnancy or the first three weeks post-whelping is most likely to result in infection of the puppies. This happens because the mother passes on the virus to the puppies but does not give them antibodies against the disease, so they are susceptible to infection.

In most cases, a bitch who has been infected with herpes virus prior to being bred will pass on adequate antibody protection to her puppies to keep them from being infected at a time when they are likely to become severely ill or die. This includes bitches who are unlucky enough to become infected during the critical time in a prior pregnancy. Even though their first litter was infected, their subsequent ones are unlikely to be infected.

Herpes virus is very common and it would be surprising if the male had not been exposed previously, so there isn't much reason to worry about him.

Trying to shelter a bitch from herpes virus prior to breeding her is probably a mistake. It is better to allow her to be exposed to situations in which other dogs are around so that she will become infected with the herpes virus, develop antibodies and pass them on to her puppies. Once she is bred, though, it may be better to assume that she has not been exposed and to try to protect her from contact with dogs who may have herpes virus.

Mike Richards, DVM 5/23/2000

Herpes Virus titer

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a Brussels Griffon bitch who is currently bred. (should be about 28 days pregnant) Her first litter of four was lost to herpes virus. Her titer tested high before she was bred this time. I'm hoping we can avoid this disaster on this breeding, otherwise she will be spayed. I was told by knowledgeable toy breeders that giving folic acid during gestation would help in the avoidance of a) cleft palate and b) resorbtion (sp?). I'm giving her 200mcg of folic acid daily ....she weighs 10 lbs. Is this a reasonable dose for her size? Do you think there might be a connection between this nutrient and the problems mentioned? I'm aware that this is just anecdotal evidence I'm going on, and have no idea if there is a more scientific basis. Thank you for your time and knowledge. Joan

A: Joan- Usually dogs that lose puppies to herpes virus on their first litter have high enough titers against the disease to protect subsequent litters and the problem doesn't recur.

Folic acid can be given in dosages up to 5mg per day so the dose you are giving certainly seems to be in the safe range.

I am not aware of the benefits from it you mention (protection from losing litters and cleft palate) but that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't real benefits. Mike Richards, DVM

Neonatal Herpes Virus.

Q: Hi, I would like to ask a question. We currently own a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. She is 2 years old. We would like to purchase a male puppy from our previous breeder. We are not breeders, just pet owners. When our previous breeder informed us that a litter had been born, she told us that 2 out of 6 puppies had died of herpes virus. She says her vet gives a clean bill of health for the 4 remaining puppies. They are showing no signs of illness, yet. They are now 6 weeks old. Are we taking a high risk in purchasing a puppy from a litter where 2 have already died, after birth? Are we risking the health of our 2 year old? I am sure you are aware of the cost of this particular breed. We dearly love our 2 year old and would love to add another pup to our household. We were treated very well by our breeder when we purchased our pup 2 years ago, thats why we wanted to return to her. However, we are concerned. I don't want to question her, but I would like the opinion of a professional. I will not forward your name to her, I would just like to know what you think. A prompt response would be appreciated. We have been on a waiting list for awhile and don't want to lose our place, but, we want to do what is the most healthy for our 2 year old and, of course, the new puppy. Thank you, K.

A: I think that puppies that survive past three weeks or so from litters partially affected by herpes virus are likely to live on with no problems. However, I have seen one puppy in the time I have been in practice which died at 6 months of age from renal failure with the pathologist thought may have originated with neonatal herpes virus infection. I do not remember why the pathologist thought that as it was some time ago. The puppy was sick when the owners acquired it at four months of age and never really was well the entire time they owned it. I suspect that it would have been possible to detect signs of illness on a physical exam much earlier than four months if one had been done.

So I think the odds are highly in your favor but there is a small chance of problems associated with the herpes virus. Since there are always potential problems it seems to me that this is a reasonable risk to take since you know the breeder and feel that she is responsible.

Mike Richards, DVM

Canine Herpes Virus (CHV)

Q: Is breeding a female dog which has tested positive for Canine Herpes Virus (CHV) ethical? Does the male dog get CHV whether or not the female is having an episode? How about the pups? Is it true that most dogs have CHV? Can you recommend a resource for current information on this condition?

A: There is a lot of conflicting information on canine herpes virus and I don't know if I am just missing something or if a lot of poor information is out there. As far as I know, based on the books I have here at my office, this is the situation with canine herpes virus: This virus is a common inhabitant of the upper respiratory tract of dogs, which means that many dogs should have a positive titer. If a bitch is first exposed to this virus during a pregnancy, it can affect the litter, leading to fetal death or early death of the puppies after birth. If the litter is exposed in the first few weeks of life, they may also show severe signs of illness. Once the bitch is exposed to the virus, it is very unlikely that any further litters will be affected. The virus is common enough that if the male dog is being shown or being used for breeding on a regular basis it is very likely that he will have been exposed to the virus already and that he will have a titer. If he doesn't, I suppose he could be infected by the female. If this is a major concern, she could be artificially inseminated and that would eliminate contact with him and the likelihood that he might get infected. The risk to the male dog seems to be pretty small, though. Based on how I understand this situation, I would think it would be a good thing if the bitch had a titer to herpes virus prior to breeding, since that would infer that she could protect the puppies from infection during the pregnancy. Since this isn't the way the situation seems to be understood by dog breeders, I have to wonder if I am missing something -- but that is how I currently interpret the situation with canine herpes virus. Your vet should have some references that discuss this virus. Ask if you can look through them. I won't let anyone take my books out of my hospital but I'll let my clients read them if they ask.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...