Canine Herpes Virus

Canine Herpes Virus is an old disease. Herpes viruses are forever – once you have it you never get rid of it. It is estimated the virus is carried by 70% of the canine population. Most dogs enter adulthood having been exposed as puppies, but they carry enough immunity to prevent disease. They will shed the virus if they are stressed or if the immune system is compromised.


Lesions and clinical signs depend on the sex and age of the dog.
  • Males: have sub-clinical symptoms most of the time, but they will also have genital lesions – redness and inflamed lymph tissue at the base of the penis. Males may also develop ocular or nasal discharge when stressed, which is a major source of infection to other dogs and to the females he is breeding.
  • After Exposure - Females: that are naive to herpes can experience fetal loss, mummies of early fetus, as well as premature birth and loss of puppies at birth or shortly after. The dangerous window for a female is three weeks before and three weeks after whelping. Exposure within this window results in puppy loss. Though a naive female will lose that litter, she will be immune for all future herpes contact, including against litter loss.
  • Puppies: can be exposed at birth as they pass through the vaginal vault. They will develop signs within three weeks of age, and if they make it past three weeks, they will survive. Clinical signs include anorexia, lethargy, and abdominal pain. Puppy deaths are often classified as “Fading Puppy Syndrome”.


Dams can have serum testing, while swabs of ocular and nasal discharge are also good. Puppies should be submitted to lab for testing. Kidney hemorrhage is characteristic and the virus can be isolated for the liver, kidneys and lungs.


Once the animal is showing signs, the prognosis is guarded. Most puppies will die. Canine herpes virus is considered naturally temperature sensitive. Knowing this, we try and control the virus with sustained, optimal environmental temperatures for the puppies that are not showing signs.

It is also very important to disinfect! Try disinfectants such as Trifectant® or OXINE®. These are penetrating disinfectants that will sterilize the surface as well as getting the virus underneath the surface.


In Europe they have a vaccine, but in the US we do not. One is needed.


Once in a kennel, the canine herpes virus is tough or impossible to eliminate. The plan includes exposing all breeding dogs to the virus before breeding, which results in titers high enough to prevent puppy loss. It's important to give young females a natural immunity to prevent puppy loss in first time moms. Talk to a veterinarian who has handled herpes to lay out a game plan that will help prevent puppy loss in the future.

If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

-Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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