Canine Herpes Virus: What Breeders Should Know About Devastating Virus

canine herpes header


Canine herpes virus, more commonly known as fading puppy syndrome, can be a devastating disease if it hits your kennel.

Dogs typically become exposed by nose to nose contact with an infected dog or through the air in crowded areas. Dogs at highest risk for the virus are young females who’ve never been exposed and their newborn puppies. Puppies can be infected in utero, through exposure to infected secretions of the dam, or through postnatal exposure to infected older members of the household dogs and/or kennel.

In dogs older than 12 weeks, mild respiratory disease is the most common clinical sign. But infections occurring in pregnant dams, which’ve not been exposed, can cause severe problems for the puppies, including fetal death and abortion.

golden pups

Infection in puppies less than 2 to 3 weeks of age is usually fatal. Signs include trouble breathing, discharge from the nose, not nursing, persistent crying and hemorrhage (red spots) on the gums. The time from when the puppy is initially infected until it shows symptoms is four to six days, and the onset is sudden. After clinical signs arise, death usually occurs in 24 to 36 hours. Some puppies with mild signs may survive but can later develop serious neurologic issues, such as trouble walking and blindness. Unfortunately, treatment in severely infected puppies is not rewarding, as there is almost a 100% morality rate.

The best medicine for this virus is prevention. Since the virus is spread primarily by air and direct contact with nasal secretions, sanitation is an important part of prevention. Good hand hygiene should be used by anyone handling the mother and her puppies. Crowded conditions should be avoided. Keep the dam’s and puppies’ area clean and disinfected. Common disinfectants are effective in destroying the herpes virus.

bulldog pups

For the last three weeks of gestation, pregnant females should be kept separate from other dogs in the family/kennel. Mother and puppies also should be kept separate for the first three weeks after birth. This is to prevent exposure to dogs who may carry the virus but do not show signs. Rearing the litter in temperatures greater than 95 degrees may also reduce losses in exposed litters.

A vaccine has been developed in Europe, but the benefits are still not known, and the vaccine is not licensed for the United States.

Puppies nursing from bitches that have previously been exposed to the virus are resistant to infection as they receive antibodies from colostrum. After a bitch has lost a litter due to herpes virus, she can be expected to have normal subsequent litters.

With the proper knowledge and prevention, this deadly virus can be avoided in your breeding program.

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