Canine herpesvirus, called CHV, causes a serious and frequently fatal infection in dogs. While immunocompromised adults are susceptible, CHV infection is much more lethal to newborn puppies, and it can cause premature abortion of entire litters when the dam is infected. Adults may show no outward signs of infection, or they may develop respiratory difficulty and pustule-like lesions on their external genitalia. Unfortunately, there is no cure for CHV, but it can be manageable in many cases. There are treatment protocols that can reduce the effects of the disease, and there are prevention methods that can reduce the spread of the virus. Once a dog is infected with CHV, they usually develop immunity to the virus. There is no approved vaccine in the United States at this time.
Puppies infected with CHV from their mother (transplacentally or during the birth process) have a grave prognosis. The rapid progression of illness and the potential for neurological and vision problems usually makes treatment unrealistic. In the rare case where only part of a litter develops clinical signs, the other littermates can be maintained at a veterinary hospital in an incubator at high humidity and elevated temperature. The canine herpesvirus is naturally hypersensitive to heat, and it is thought that keeping neonates warmer than normal may reduce the severity and duration of disease. Inpatient supportive care can also include hydration, medication to manage diarrhea, and bottle or tube feeding to maintain nutritional support. If available, the apparently unaffected puppies can be given serum from a dog known to have antibodies against CHV. If the puppies survive, they will have developed immunity to the virus, but they often have permanent heart, central nervous system and retinal damage.
Currently, there are no treatments for CHV infection in adult dogs. The respiratory signs and sores around external genitalia in adult dogs infected by this virus are best managed with medication prescribed by a veterinarian. CHV does not survive long outside the body; disinfectants will quickly and effectively kill the virus. The best preventative technique is good hygiene. Breeders should keep pregnant bitches clean, warm, well-fed and well-hydrated. All people in contact with a litter should practice rigorous hand-washing, or should use gloves.
Most puppies infected with canine herpesvirus die in utero (are aborted) or die shortly after birth. Unaffected puppies from a litter affected by canine herpesvirus infection typically have a good prognosis. Affected adults also tend to have a fairly normal quality and quantity of life. The rare puppies who develop clinical signs and recover may suffer from deafness, blindness, kidney damage or encephalopathy.