Canine herpesvirus, also known as fading puppy syndrome, often kills it victims. It's not impossible for an infected puppy to survive, but he's in for a tough battle. It's not a virus that affects his mother, other than as a carrier. A puppy might contract the herpesvirus while in utero, during the birth process or in the first few weeks of life.
While feline herpesvirus attacks a cat's respiratory system, the canine version primarily goes after the reproductive tract in adult dogs. It's spread through sex and common dog activities like sniffing and licking. Pregnant and nursing mother dogs don't show symptoms, but the virus causes fetuses to abort and kills most infected puppies under the age of 3 weeks. Puppies contracting herpesvirus after their third week of life have better chances of survival, although lifelong problems might ensue.
Sometimes, the only symptom of canine herpesvirus is death of little puppies. Although an entire litter can be wiped out, one dead or sick puppy doesn't mean the entire litter is infected. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, lack of interest in nursing, abdominal pain, yellow-green bowel movements and blood from the nose. Get the puppy -- and his asymptomatic siblings -- to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately. Sick young puppies generally succumb within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Prepare yourself for the likely loss of a young puppy, but don't give up hope. Treatment consists mainly of supportive care, including keeping the sick puppy warm, either on a heating pad or under lights. Even if a puppy does pull through, he might suffer from damage to various internal organs from the disease. For his littermates, injection of serum from a female dog exposed to herpesvirus might protect them, as it gives them antibodies to fight the virus.
No vaccine for the canine herpesvirus was available in the United States by mid-2013. A canine herpesvirus vaccine is available is Europe. An expectant dog should have no contact with other canines for the last three weeks of pregnancy and the first three weeks of her new litter's lives. If the mother does pass herpesvirus on to a litter, that doesn't mean it will affect subsequent litters. Those litters receive protection from antibodies to the herpesvirus now in their mother's system.
By Jane Meggitt
ASPCA: Canine Herpes
Mar Vista Animal Medical Center: Canine Herpes Infection
Cornell University Baker Institute for Animal Health: An Overview of Canine Herpesvirus
WebMD: Canine Herpes Virus
Merck Veterinary Manual: Overview of Canine Herpesviral Infection
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.