All dog owners have a responsibility to keep their animals safe from disease, but that responsibility is especially crucial when it comes to breeders. If a dog that is meant to be bred contracts a sexually transmitted disease, that disease won’t just be passed on to the dog’s mate. If a bitch carrying pups becomes infected, that infection will be passed on to the pups—which have underdeveloped immune systems—likely resulting in the death of the litter.
So, it’s of the utmost importance that breeders and other canine caretakers know the signs, symptoms, and dangers of canine sexually transmitted diseases, and protection begins with learning about three of the most prevalent canine STDs: brucellosis, canine herpes virus, and canine transmissible venereal tumors.
Canine Herpes Virus
Canine Herpes Virus is often spread to other dogs during sexual intercourse, but contact with compromised skin or aerosolized particles is all that’s necessary for the disease to be transmitted. It’s difficult for canine herpes virus to survive within an environment outside the body, and household disinfectants and temperatures of 68 degrees Fahrenheit or lower will effectively neutralize it.
The symptoms do not always include visible sores on the skin, and some adult dogs will show no clearly identifiable signs of the illness at all. However, an infected dog may display symptoms such as kennel cough and— for pregnant bitches—aborted or stillborn pups.
Infected puppies can show off a number of symptoms, including discolored stool (yellow/green), breathing troubles, abdomen pain and swelling, cold body temperatures, bruises, general weakness, and loss of appetite. Given the terrible toll CHV can take on pups, it’s especially important for breeders to have their dogs tested before they are allowed to mate.
Antiviral treatment is possible for puppies upon early detection, but the effectiveness of the treatment is not guaranteed, and chances of survival will decrease dramatically as time passes. A vaccine is available to pregnant bitches in Europe, but no such vaccine is available in the U.S. at this time. Once a dog is infected, it will be infected for life, so if a dog is diagnosed with canine herpes virus or is suspected to be carrying the disease, that dog absolutely should be prohibited from breeding.
This venereal disease is caused by bacteria that invade the body via bodily fluids (typically during sexual contact) and attack a dog’s reproductive organs. The early stages of infection can be difficult to detect, and once the disease takes hold it reproduces and spreads to other areas of the body. Signs can include swelling of the lymph nodes, eyes, kidneys, and arthritis. If a pregnant bitch is infected with the disease, her pups will also become infected and will likely be aborted or stillborn. And, to make matters worse, brucellosis can also be passed on to humans via contact with infected animals and their fluids/waste.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for brucellosis, and no vaccine exists currently. Once a dog becomes infected with the bacteria, it is very difficult to completely eliminate it from the body. Some have claimed that they were able to successfully rid their dogs of the bacteria through dietary changes and immune-boosting supplements, but even in these cases, it’s been said that the process to completely rid a dog of the bacteria can take many years.
Brucellosis has the potential to do a lot of harm and spread to others (including both dogs and humans), so owners must be vigilant. If you suspect that your dog may have the disease, if your dog has contact with livestock, or if you plan to breed your dog, ask your vet about testing your dog for brucellosis.
Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumors
A dog suffering from transmissible venereal tumors may develop a reddish, bulging mass on the genitalia, and bleeding may also be present coming from the foreskin or the vagina. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact with a diseased animal, but oral contact (including the licking associated with normal greeting behaviors) with diseased tissue can also spread CTVT.
Veterinarians can confirm the presence of CTVTs through a biopsy, smear, or the examination of fine-needle aspirates, and treatment options are similar to those typically offered to humans afflicted with tumors—radiation, surgery, chemotherapy, or a combination. Currently, there is no vaccine for the prevention of the disease. Thankfully, it is uncommon for CTVTs to spread to other areas of the body, but diagnosis and testing by a trained veterinarian will be needed to ensure that the tumor is not malignant.
Again, if you have any reason to believe a dog may have CTVT, brucellosis, or canine herpes virus, take the dog to the vet for testing and diagnosis, especially before any attempts at breeding the dog are made.