HERPES INFECTION (CANINE)
CANINE HERPES INFECTION:
Most of us are familiar with herpesviruses because we have heard of human herpes. Medications to suppress herpes outbreaks are advertised on television and educational programs are in place in schools and communities. In humans, there are two herpesviruses: herpes I which causes facial sores and is spread by kissing or sharing food utensils and herpes II which causes genital sores and is spread by sexual contact. Herpesviruses have the ability to “hide” in the body’s nerve ganglia, where they are safe from the immune system, periodically emerging and causing symptoms. Herpes infection is generally considered to be permanent with outbreaks of symptoms are generally associated with stress.
In fact, our pets must deal with their own herpesviruses. In cats, herpes is a respiratory virus accounting for nearly 50% of feline upper respiratory infections. Feline herpes is very contagious and is a common problem wherever cats are housed in groups.
Canine herpes is more of a reproductive problem than a respiratory one; in fact, most infected dogs do not appear to get sick at all; the virus affects the mostly the unborn and newborn.
(original graphic by marvistavet.com)
Herpes infection manifests in pregnancy as resorption of the embryos, abortion of the fetuses, stillbirth, or death of puppies within a few weeks of life. Transmission occurs by direct contact (sexual contact will do it but the usual route is simply normal nosing, licking, and sniffing) between the infected and uninfected dogs. For this reason, it is recommended that a pregnant female dog be isolated from other dogs for the last three weeks of pregnancy and the first three weeks after birth. Let’s say that again:
Any pregnant female dog should be isolated from other dogs
Puppies can be exposed before, during, or after birth. Just because one member of the litter is infected, this does not mean they all are. The incubation period is 3-7 days following infection. Once symptoms begin (shallow breathing, loss of appetite, vomiting) death follows within 48 hours. Infected puppies uniformly have low platelet counts and may show red spots called “petechiae” which actually represent small bruises.
WHAT TO DO WHEN ONE OF THE PUPPIES DIES SHORTLY AFTER BIRTH:
If the infection is less than 3 weeks old, it may be possible to actually culture the virus from swabs from the nose or vagina. In general, confirming herpes infection in a dead puppy is much easier and faster than trying to confirm the infection in the adult dog.
Recently a PCR test (a test for herpesviral DNA) has been developed for dogs. This test is likely to become the diagnostic test of choice.
Fortunately, herpesviruses do not live in the environment (they dies at 68º F and are readily killed by common disinfectants); direct contact with an infected host or fresh secretions is needed for transmission. Still, once a dog is infected, it will be infected for life. Shedding virus is increased by stress. One more time: all mother dogs should be isolated from the final 3 weeks of pregnancy through the first 3 weeks after birth. In Europe, a vaccine is available for use during canine pregnancy (one dose at the time of breeding and a second 6-7 weeks later, to be repeated with each pregnancy).
Herpes is only a danger to the puppies when the mother is infected during pregnancy or shortly after delivery. Once the mother has been infected, subsequent pregnancies should be unaffected as she will have made enough antibodies to keep the virus in check.
Page last updated: 8/5/2016