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Canine Herpesvirus

What is Canine Herpesvirus?

Canine Herpesvirus (CHV) is a condition that affects canines, including dogs, wolves, and coyotes. It primarily impacts the reproductive system, posing minimal concern for most pet dogs and their owners. However, breeders face significant challenges as CHV can lead to high mortality rates among puppies aged three weeks or younger, as well as spontaneous abortion and stillbirths. As puppies mature beyond three weeks, their body temperature rises, enhancing their ability to combat the virus. Puppies older than six months rarely succumb to CHV.

Transmission typically occurs through the nose, mouth, or genitals. In puppies and canine fetuses, the virus can proliferate, spreading through the lymphatic system and bloodstream, causing extensive harm. Moreover, herpesviruses have the ability to retreat to nerve cells, where they remain dormant and resurface during periods of stress, causing infection. Dogs can intermittently shed the virus throughout their lifetimes.


Symptoms of Canine Herpesvirus (CHV) can be grave, often leading pet parents or breeders to discover the unfortunate loss of a puppy. However, other signs may manifest, including:

  • Failure to thrive, evident through difficulties in nursing or gaining weight.
  • Excessive crying.
  • Lethargy or listlessness.
  • Below-normal body temperature.
  • Additional indications such as diarrhea, a runny nose, pneumonia, and pinpoint hemorrhages (petechiae) on the belly, inner ears, conjunctiva, or gums.

In adult dogs, symptoms of the virus may not be apparent or may resemble those of a common cold, such as coughing, a runny nose, or lethargy. Some adult dogs may also experience infertility, lesions on their genitalia, or, in pregnant dogs, sudden loss of their litter or stillbirth(s).


The transmission of Canine Herpesvirus (CHV) commonly occurs through direct contact between dogs, facilitated by saliva, nasal discharge, vaginal secretions, or sexual interaction. In rare cases, the virus can spread through fomites, which are objects carrying the virus like clothes, water, and food bowls. Typically, CHV spreads among puppies and dogs that interact closely, such as those within a litter. Additionally, the virus can be transmitted from mother to offspring.


Veterinarians often consider Canine Herpesvirus (CHV) as a potential diagnosis when encountering a puppy aged 3 weeks or younger exhibiting clinical symptoms or having passed away. To confirm CHV, a PCR test may be conducted on tissue samples or fluids. Unfortunately, in many cases, diagnoses are made posthumously by identifying lesions associated with canine herpesvirus after the puppy has deceased.


Regrettably, once Canine Herpesvirus (CHV) is diagnosed or suspected, the prognosis for most infected puppies is grim. Often, the puppy may have already succumbed, or the veterinarian may advise euthanasia. It’s crucial to examine the puppy even post-mortem to implement precautions that limit the virus’s spread and safeguard siblings or other dogs in the household.

Considering that the virus is vulnerable to heat, maintaining a warmer ambient temperature for surviving pups may aid in preventing transmission. While some antivirals and antibody serum injections have been reported as treatment options, supportive care measures are typically employed. These measures include rehydration, encouraging the puppy to eat, and administering medications to alleviate pain, nausea, and diarrhea.

Living and Management

Regrettably, the majority of affected puppies do not survive, and those that do often experience long-term complications like blindness, kidney disease, or neurological dysfunction. However, many adult dogs and puppies older than 3 weeks can lead relatively normal lives. Some may encounter fertility issues, but females infected before pregnancy or those who have experienced abortion due to the virus can still have healthy litters in the future, provided the pups do not contract the infection elsewhere.

Canine Herpesvirus FAQs

How prevalent is canine herpesvirus?

Canine herpesvirus is a widespread and lethal virus found globally, and once contracted, it remains in the dog’s system indefinitely. It’s highly probable that your dog has encountered it, given its prevalence in everyday interactions. However, older dogs seldom exhibit clinical signs since it primarily affects puppies.

Is canine herpesvirus transmissible to humans?

No, canine herpesvirus only affects dogs, wolves, and coyotes. Dogs can become carriers of the virus, intermittently shedding it throughout their lives, especially during times of stress.

Is there a vaccine for canine herpesvirus?

Regrettably, there is no commercially available vaccine against canine herpesvirus in the United States. However, practicing good hygiene, isolating pregnant dogs before delivery, and subsequently isolating the mother and litter during the initial weeks of life, along with maintaining a warm and clean puppy environment, can minimize the risk of illness. Fortunately, most household disinfectants effectively kill the virus.

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