Herpesvirus in Dogs

canine herpesvirus

Canine Herpesvirus is a pathogen that produces thousands of deaths in puppies every year across the globe. Unfortunately, it has a mortality of 100%, which is why it is extremely dangerous.

In today’s article, we’re looking at the symptoms of Herpesvirus in dogs, how it is diagnosed, treated, and whether or not it can be prevented.

What dogs does Canine Herpesvirus affect?

Although all dogs can come in contact with other infected animals at any time throughout their life, the age they are particularly vulnerable to this infection and the clinical signs it produces are when they are younger than 6 months.

Adult dogs mostly develop unspecific signs and while they can infect other pets in their living space, especially, if they share their food and water bowls, they might naturally recover thanks to a fully developed immune system.

Puppies, on the other hand, are more likely to die if they contract this disease as their immune response is not up to par. Sometimes, if the mother catches the infection during pregnancy, puppies can be born with a canine herpesvirus infection and die within a matter of several days.

One note that we must make is that this virus is extremely widespread, and like kennel cough, for example, it tends to affect dogs that live in large communities, such as in kennels.

For this reason, breeders should be extremely careful about the hygiene routines they have in place and if one dog begins to show any illness signs, they should quarantine them to make sure that the rest of the dogs do not get infected too.

Symptoms of Canine Herpesvirus

Since the infection is so lethal in puppies, breeders or pet owners might rarely notice any symptoms. Puppies may die before the full pathogenesis of the disease hits its peak, so they might not see any clinical signs whatsoever.

However, if these do appear, the most noticeable ones are the following:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Rashes on the puppy’s body located in a variety of areas
  • A suspicious absence of fever
  • Corneal edema

The signs of this disease in adult dogs are somewhat different. The vast majority of those that have a well-functioning immune system rarely develop severe symptoms, so the most likely ones that they are going to experience are rhinitis and vesicular vaginitis. Balanoposthitis can show up in males.

Pregnant females may abort their litter or deliver stillborn puppies. If they do recover from the disease, they might get pregnant again and give birth to a healthy litter.

Diagnosis and treatment

One of the most significant issues with this condition is that the puppies often die before being diagnosed. The clinical signs are also somewhat confusing in that they resemble both those that dogs with kennel cough can experience, but they are also similar to Canine Distemper.

Antibody tests are available, however, and PCR tests are quite exact.

There is no specific cure for this infection, at least not at this time. In puppies, your veterinarian might use a broad typical treatment plan until they find out exactly what the dogs are suffering from, such as administering fluids through an IV or using an antibiotic to combat any possible secondary bacterial infections.

Unfortunately, puppies rarely survive and if they do, they can be left with a latent infection that causes long-term symptoms, mostly relating to their respiratory system and its capacity.

The disease can be treated if the dog has contracted the infection and they are an otherwise healthy adult. Sometimes, it resolves on its own, especially if they are cared for properly. However, since the ocular symptoms can sometimes be severe, some vets might use ophthalmic antiviral medications (cidofovir).

Can this infection be prevented?

No. No vaccine has been approved against this pathogen in North America, at least until now. There is one currently being used in some countries in Europe and it seems to have considerably decreased the number of lethal cases.

However, since puppies and young females that are pregnant have the highest risk of getting the disease and of developing severe symptoms, we recommend keeping your pregnant dog isolated from other animals for most of their pregnancy.

Breeders should practice excellent hygiene and isolate the animals that are showing any respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms — even if they suspect a canine herpes virus infection or any other, for that matter.

Finally, although adult dogs have a good survival rate and they rarely develop severe clinical signs, it’s worth noting that they can be contagious for a relatively long time.

There is a supposition according to which some dogs might even spread the virus for the rest of their life, making them a danger to puppies, especially those that are younger than six months of age.

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