Canine Herpes Virus

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on September 05, 2023
4 min read

Canine herpes virus (CHV) is a serious and often fatal viral disease in puppies. In adult dogs, it can cause eye disease, an upper respiratory infection, and inflammation in the vagina or foreskin of the penis. 

In adult dogs, canine herpes is considered a reproductive health problem rather than a lung problem, as it is in puppies.

Pregnant dogs that develop canine herpes in the last few weeks of a pregnancy can experience stillbirth. They can also pass herpes to the litter before or during birth. Dog herpes is serious for puppies and can result in death and litter loss.

Your dog can get canine herpes virus from direct contact with the nose, mouth, or vaginal fluids from a dog that has the virus. Sexual contact between dogs can cause transmission. It can also transfer through normal licking, sniffing, and nosing.

Canine herpes in puppies is also transmitted through direct contact with fluids. Puppies born to an infected mother can get the disease while in the womb or after birth from the mother’s vaginal, nose, or mouth fluids. The virus can affect the whole litter or just one puppy. 

Most adult dogs do not have any symptoms or may have only mild symptoms from herpes. It is often not as serious in adult dogs. 

Symptoms include:

  • Eye discharge
  • Eye inflammation
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Inflamed penis foreskin
  • Genital sores
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Abortion
  • Stillbirth

Canine herpes in puppies usually develops in two different ways. 

If the puppies are infected after the age of three weeks, herpes can develop into a lung infection and then into pneumonia. This is serious since puppies' immune systems aren't strong. The infection can cause brain damage or blindness. 

Herpes virus needs a colder body temperature to replicate, but after three weeks puppies start to regulate their body temperature on their own. This means they may be better able to fight off the virus. 

Puppies that contract the dog herpes virus before three weeks of age have a more serious disease. In these cases, herpes symptoms usually come on suddenly, and the disease progresses quickly and painfully. Death typically occurs within 48 hours. 

Symptoms of canine herpes in puppies include:

Canine herpes virus is an extremely common virus in dogs. It is a permanent infection that will never be cured. Most dogs that greet other dogs will get the virus. Young females and their puppies are most at risk for canine herpes. Male stud dogs who regularly breed are highly likely to have canine herpes. 

A mother dog that has already been infected may have her own antibodies, and her puppies should be protected. Puppies who nurse from a mother with antibodies will get those antibodies through the milk and be protected. How long these antibodies last may be different for each dog. 

Canine herpes virus cannot be passed to humans. 

Herpes virus in dogs is usually diagnosed from signs and symptoms. Your vet may test blood samples for antibodies. If puppies die suddenly or are stillborn, your vet may examine the body for signs of herpes or other infections. This information can help the vet treat the other puppies in the litter.

Herpes in puppies is a deadly disease. There often isn’t much that can be done. If you notice your puppy showing symptoms, consider it an emergency and contact your vet right away.

Some treatments for canine herpes in puppies may include:

  • Antiviral medication
  • Moving the litter to nurse from a mother dog with antibodies
  • Treating puppies with antibodies from a herpes-recovered mother 
  • Keeping puppies warm and above 95 degrees

Treatment in adult dogs is not usually needed. There may not be symptoms, or the symptoms may be mild and go away on their own. Your vet may still recommend some treatments like:

Europe has a vaccine for canine herpes in pregnancy. A herpes vaccine isn't yet available in the United States. Some practices can prevent an infection, including:

  • Isolating pregnant dogs for three weeks before and after delivery
  • Isolating puppies for three weeks after birth
  • Keeping puppies warm (above 95 degrees)
  • Making sure puppies nurse from a mother with antibodies in the first day after birth
  • Keeping birthing kennels clean and sterile

Dog herpes is extremely common. If you suspect your pregnant dog or puppy has canine herpes, get medical attention right away.