Symptoms of Herpes Infection in Dogs

Herpes infection in dogs is caused by canine herpesvirus, also called CHV. It occurs most often in newborn puppies, and is often fatal. Read on to learn more about this viral disease deadly to puppies.

How Puppies Catch Canine Herpesvirus

Canine herpes is a sexually transmitted disease of the dog. The virus that causes it, canine herpesvirus or CHV, lives in the respiratory and reproductive systems of dogs of both genders. Dogs can spread this disease through their sexual secretions. Many adult dogs can carry and spread the virus without showing any symptoms of disease.

Puppies can catch this disease from their mothers when they pass through the birth canal. They can even catch it through the placenta while they are still in the womb. Because the canine herpesvirus can become airborne, puppies can catch it from their mother or another infected dog after birth, and they can spread it in this way to one another. The virus can also spread to dogs who have ingested materials contaminated with it.

Symptoms of Canine Herpesvirus Infection

Most puppies catch this disease before birth, during birth or immediately following birth. It takes about a week for symptoms to show up. Canine herpes usually occurs in puppies one to three weeks of age, and the disease can run its course in one to three days. Unfortunately, many puppies die within 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms.

Puppies suffering from canine herpes usually stop feeding, may cry more often and may appear depressed. They have soft stools which may be yellow or green in color.

They may develop respiratory symptoms, such as:

  • a runny nose
  • an abdominal rash
  • nosebleeds
  • small bruises

They may experience swelling and tenderness of the abdomen, since the virus can affect liver function. The canine herpesvirus can also damage the nervous system, causing vision loss and coordination problems.

Just because a puppy is exposed to canine herpesvirus doesn't mean it will get sick with herpes. Some puppies show no symptoms of illness. Others develop mild symptoms, but recover when the disease runs its course in about three days. Puppies exposed to the disease after six weeks of age usually recover, but may continue to carry and spread the disease for the rest of their lives.

Diagnosing and Treating Canine Herpes

Because canine herpesvirus spreads quickly through a litter of puppies and can kill puppies so rapidly, diagnosis is usually made via autopsy. Vets do not yet have a cure for canine herpes. Supportive care can help puppies recover, but their chances of recovery are slim if they are under six weeks of age. Supportive care usually involves keeping puppies warm and treating diarrhea with medication and fluid therapy.

The canine herpesvirus seems to thrive best at temperatures close to 99 degrees F. Some vets advocate preventing serious infection by keeping puppies warm with heat lamps or pads; keeping the puppies warm can make it harder for the virus to take hold in their bodies. Any respiratory or other symptoms in newborn puppies should be promptly investigated.