Diagnosing Canine Herpes Virus

Canine herpes virus, or CHV, is a virus that damages your dog's reproductive faculties. Adult dogs who have survived infection with this virus may show no symptoms. However, canine herpes virus is a leading cause of death in newborn puppies. Here's what you should know about canine herpes virus, its consequences and its prevention.

Canine Herpes Virus in Adult Dogs

Canine herpes virus affects the reproductive systems of adult dogs. It's spread by direct contact between an infected and an uninfected dog. This contact can be sexual, but it also includes social contact behavior like licking, sniffing, nosing and nuzzling. Canine herpes virus can spread through the air on an infected dog's cough or sneeze. 

Adult dogs often don't show symptoms of infection with canine herpes virus. Stillbirth, abortion and a dry, hacking cough are the most common symptoms of canine herpes infection in adult dogs. In rare cases, genital sores may appear. 

Adult dogs who contract this illness may suffer an initial outbreak of symptoms, after which the virus goes dormant inside the dog's body. Subsequent outbreaks can occur when the dog's immune system is weak, due to illness or stress.

Canine Herpes and Puppies

Canine herpes virus is a primary cause of death in puppies less than three weeks of age. If a pregnant bitch is infected with canine herpes, she can spread the virus to her puppies, even if she's not currently suffering an outbreak. Puppies can contract this virus in the womb, during birth or shortly after birth. Stillborn puppies and puppies who die shortly after they're born may have contracted canine herpes virus in the womb.

Puppies younger than three weeks of age are most vulnerable to canine herpes virus, and it's usually deadly in puppies this young. Symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Crying
  • Lack of suckle reflex
  • Painful or bruised abdomen
  • Soft stool that is yellow or green in color
  • Respiratory symptoms including labored breathing and nasal discharge
  • Nose bleeds
  • Bruising
  • Blindness and seizures, especially in older puppies
  • Sudden death

Canine herpes virus is a quick killer, especially in the youngest puppies. CHV can kill newborn puppies in a matter of hours.

Coping with Canine Herpes Virus

If your newborn puppies are showing any signs of illness, seek emergency veterinary care right away. There's no cure for canine herpes virus, but your vet can offer supportive care to help the puppies recover if possible. 

If one or more puppies in your litter appear to be infected with canine herpes virus, separate them from the others. Newborn puppies can spread this virus to one another, but just because some of the puppies in the litter have contracted the virus from their mother, it doesn't mean they all have. You may be able to protect uninfected puppies by separating them from the others.

You can help your puppies recover from canine herpes virus by keeping them warm. A whelping box or other incubation device should be kept at 100 degrees F, since the virus thrives best at lower temperatures and newborn puppies are unable to regulate their body temperature.