Canine herpes virus, more commonly known as fading puppy syndrome, can be a devastating disease.

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

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 neurological issues, such as trouble walking and blindness. Unfortunately, treatment in severely infected puppies is not rewarding, as there is almost a 100% mortality 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.

If your dogs are at risk, for the last three weeks of gestation, pregnant females should be kept separate from other dogs in the family. 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.

Often there is nothing that can be done to stop the sweep of this lethal virus. The treatment for Herpes in young puppies with the appropriate signs is elevation of the body temperature. Antiviral medications such as Acyclovir may help.

Prevention.........There is a vaccine available in UK which is recommended for use in pregnant bitches to provide passive protection of their puppies from the effects of neonatal infection with CHV. The vaccine is to be administered subcutaneously to pregnant bitches at approximately 10 - 14 days and 52 days after mating.

Note the Herpes vaccination is often in short supply and you may have to ring round veterinary practices in your area.

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the advice provided by your veterinarian.