You may have heard of the herpes virus that commonly affects humans, but can it also impact our canine companions? While the strains of herpes that affect humans do not affect dogs in the same way, there are herpes viruses that can cause a range of health issues in dogs.

These are referred to as canine herpes viruses, and we’ll be looking at how the herpes virus is transmitted, the symptoms of dog herpes, and the treatments for the canine herpes virus.

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  1. What Is Herpes in Dogs
  2. Transmission of Canine Herpes Virus
  3. Symptoms of Herpes in Dogs
  4. Symptoms of Canine Herpes Virus in Puppies
  5. Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Herpes Virus
  6. Preventing Herpes in Dogs
  7. FAQs
  8. Final Thoughts

What Is Herpes in Dogs

Canine herpes viruses are a group of herpes virus strains that affect dogs. The most common types are Canine Herpesvirus-1 (CHV-1) and Canine Herpesvirus-2 (CHV-2). These viruses are different from the herpes simplex virus that affects humans.

The virus, while easily transmissible, isn’t always apparent. Particularly in adult dogs, the virus can be contracted and remain dormant in the body, kept in check by the immune system. Symptoms may only appear when the dog’s immune system is weakened by stress or illness.

Canine herpes viruses are not zoonotic, which means that they cannot be transmitted between species. The good news is that you can’t catch these viruses from your dog, and vice versa.

Transmission of Canine Herpes Virus

The bad news, though, is that canine herpesvirus is highly contagious among dogs. There are many ways in which the disease can be transmitted, including through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected dog (saliva, nasal discharge, and genital secretions). Unborn puppies can contract the virus from their mother through the placenta or during the birthing process. Herpes in puppies that have just been born can be particularly dangerous.

Of course, it isn’t possible to be with your dog every waking minute of every day (sadly). One way to keep an eye on your best canine pal while you’re not home is to invest in a Pet Camera. With two-way sound and night-vision capabilities, these handy gadgets are a valuable asset for any pet parent.

Symptoms of Herpes in Dogs

The symptoms of dog herpes can vary depending on a range of factors, including age, general health, and the immune response of the affected dog. Common symptoms of herpes in dogs include:

  • Upper Respiratory Signs: a dog with the canine herpes virus will display symptoms similar to those of a respiratory infection. This can appear as coughing, sneezing, a mild fever, and nasal discharge.
  • Conjunctivitis: dog herpes can affect the conjunctiva, the delicate membrane covering the surface of the eye. A dog with conjunctivitis will have red, swollen eyes with discharge from the eyes.
  • Loss of Appetite: the canine herpes virus can cause your dog to feel very unwell and uncomfortable, leading to a decreased appetite.
  • Lethargy: a dog that has contracted the canine herpes virus will exhibit lethargy and a lack of energy. Your usually active pup will suddenly become very subdued.
  • Genital Lesions: the CHV-1 virus can cause genital lesions and ulcerations in adult dogs. Genital sores, vaginal discharge, and an inflamed penis and foreskin are common. Typically, this is seen in dogs that have not been spayed or neutered.
  • Neurological Symptoms: herpes in puppies typically presents with neurological symptoms as the virus attacks the nervous system. Tremors, seizures, lack of coordination, and difficulty standing or walking.

Symptoms of Canine Herpes Virus in Puppies

There are two ways that canine herpes develops in puppies:

  1. If infected after three weeks of age, herpes can develop into a lung infection, which can further progress to pneumonia. Because the immune system of puppies is not strong enough, this can lead to brain damage or even blindness.
  2. If infected before three weeks of age, the disease can be much more serious. In such cases, the disease comes on suddenly and progresses very quickly. Sadly, death usually follows within 48 hours.

Puppy herpes symptoms include:

  • Weakness;
  • Lethargy;
  • Decreased appetite;
  • Less nursing;
  • Eye swelling and discharge;
  • Nasal discharge;
  • Shallow breathing;
  • Abdominal bloating;
  • Coughing;
  • Rash;
  • Low body temperature;
  • Seizures.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Herpes Virus

The diagnosis of the herpes virus in dogs can be tricky because the symptoms often overlap with those of various other canine illnesses. Your veterinarian will need to conduct a thorough physical exam and possibly other tests to confirm the presence of the virus.

There is no cure for herpes in dogs. Treatment is focused on managing symptoms and providing supportive care. Your dog may carry the virus for long periods before showing symptoms. The symptoms may be short-lived in adult dogs and pass on their own, or they may become more aggressive, requiring medical intervention.

When symptoms are severe enough in adult dogs, your vet may prescribe eye drops, pain relievers, cough medication, and antibiotics to treat secondary infections.

In the case of puppies, keeping them warm (above 95 degrees) can slow down the spread of the virus. Having newborn puppies nurse from a mother with antibodies on their first day after birth can help protect them against the virus. Puppies born with the herpes virus are at high risk for mortality, even after aggressive treatment is administered.

Preventing Herpes in Dogs

As there isn’t a cure for canine herpes, prevention is crucial. According to The American Kennel Club research breeders and kennel owners should be especially aware of the risks of transmission and prevention measures.

  • Isolation: an unwell dog should be kept isolated from other dogs to prevent transmission. In the case of pregnant dogs, they should be kept separated from other dogs for at least three weeks before they are due to give birth and during the whelping stage.
  • Vaccination: there is a canine herpes vaccine available to protect against herpes in dogs. This vaccine is not considered a core vaccine, so it will not be administered along with these when your pup goes for regular vaccinations. You will need to specifically request the dog herpes vaccine. Your vet will be able to advise you if the vaccine is appropriate for your dog.
  • Hygiene: good hygiene can dramatically reduce the spread of the virus. Regular cleaning and disinfection of kennels and dog equipment should be prioritized.


Can you get herpes from a dog?

Dogs cannot transmit herpes to humans. And humans cannot transmit herpes to their dogs. The strains that affect dogs (CHV-1 and CHV-2) can only live and reproduce in dogs. Human strains of herpes include HSV-1 and HSV-2.

How common is canine herpes?

Canine herpes is extremely common in dogs, with as many as 80% of dogs having been exposed to it at some point. The virus can stay dormant in the body, reactivating periodically at times of stress or illness. Once contracted, the virus will live in the dog’s body for the rest of its life.

How do dogs get herpes?

Canine herpes is highly transmissible among dogs, passing from one to another through direct contact with the nose or mouth (everyday licking and sniffing) and even vaginal fluids from an infected dog. Dog herpes can also be transmitted sexually.

What does dog herpes look like?

For most adult dogs that have been exposed to the canine herpes virus, there are no symptoms. They can carry the virus without showing symptoms as long as their immune system is robust enough to keep it at bay. Only when the immune system is compromised in some way can the symptoms become apparent.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of herpes in dogs are very nonspecific and could apply to several canine illnesses. Symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, eye infections and discharge, and genital lesions are indications that herpes may be present.

Because the clinical signs are so nonspecific, it’s essential to get to your vet so that they can perform the required tests to confirm the presence of the virus.

Can dogs get genital herpes?

Yes, dogs can have genital herpes, but usually, this is asymptomatic, so your dog may have the condition without you being aware. Symptoms tend to flare up periodically in response to stress or a weakened immune system.

Symptoms to look out for in adult dogs include:

  • Respiratory issues;
  • Pain;
  • Vaginal discharge;
  • Stillborn fetuses;
  • Inflammation of the penis.

In puppies, look for:

  • Lethargy and weakness;
  • Eye problems;
  • Failure to nurse;
  • Nasal discharge;
  • Rash.

Final Thoughts

While dogs can’t contract the same herpes virus that affects humans, they are susceptible to their own strands of the virus. These canine herpes viruses can cause various symptoms, ranging from respiratory problems to conjunctivitis. Puppy herpes leads to more severe neurological symptoms and poses a greater risk of mortality.

As there’s no cure, prevention is paramount, using measures such as isolation, vaccination, and impeccable hygiene. If you suspect that your dog may have been exposed to dog herpes, consult your veterinarian promptly.

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