Anyone who’s ever had a cold sore understands the agitation that goes along with it. These raised bumps and blisters prove unsightly, uncomfortable and unpredictable. But what you might not know is that our furry friends can also experience this unfortunate affliction.
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering whether or not dogs can get cold sores, the answer is yes. However, our pups’ condition typically looks different from our own.
How do dogs get cold sores?
Cold sores in dogs are spread through a virus called the canine herpesvirus (CHV). CHV is spread similarly to the herpes simplex virus that affects humans. That is, CHV spreads between dogs when an uninfected dog comes into close contact with an infected one. Just like the human strain of the virus, CHV is spread through respiratory and sexual contact, as well as contact with oral and nasal secretions.
Also similar to the human-borne version of the herpesvirus, CHV can be spread through close contact, even when the host isn’t showing signs of an outbreak. As a result, your dog could be getting a dose of CHV without you realizing it. And, like in humans, CHV never goes away. An adult dog will have the canine herpesvirus for life.
It’s important to note, however, that your dog cannot give you cold sores, nor can you give cold sores to your dog. The strains of herpesvirus that infect dogs and humans are distinct and not contagious between species.
How do I know if my dog has a cold sore?
How cold sores appear on dogs is where the human and canine versions of the virus really differ. While humans tend to develop cold sores on their mouths, dogs tend to develop sores on their genitals. Your dog might try to lick or bite at the sore, alerting you to its appearance.
Dogs can develop sores on their mouths, but these might not be related to CHV at all. Numerous other health problems can lead to lumps and bumps along your pup’s mouth and snout.
Adult dogs infected with CHV might also experience respiratory problems, like coughing and sneezing. These symptoms might occur alongside or separately from genital bumps. Often, though, adult dogs will not show any symptoms of illness at all. Symptom flare-ups can occur over time if your pup gets stressed or if their immune system is hampered.
If you do notice any symptoms of illness in your dog, you should schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible.
It’s not just cold sores
Most of the time, when CHV symptoms appear on your adult dog, the result isn’t fatal—just inconvenient. However, it’s still important to schedule an appointment with a vet to ensure that the genital bumps or respiratory illness isn’t a sign of a more serious condition.
What’s more concerning about CHV is that it’s possible for mothers to pass the virus on to her pups during birth. Puppies are the most susceptible to CHV, and the symptoms the virus causes in very young dogs are often fatal. Infected puppies might appear to have difficulty breathing, be uninterested in eating, whine frequently and experience seizures. If you notice these symptoms in newborn puppies, seek medical attention right away, since they might be suffering from CHV, or “fading puppy syndrome.”
How to treat cold sores in dogs
The good news is that if your older dog contracts CHV, the most common prescription is rest and relaxation. During an outbreak, you should limit your dog’s contact with other pups and try to keep them as calm as possible.
One major issue with a canine cold sore outbreak is persistent licking of the sore site. This can actually hurt the healing process and increase the potential for infection. If you notice that your dog is consistently licking at their blisters, it’s time to try some distraction techniques or an Elizabethan collar. Consider getting a treat puzzle to occupy your dog’s attention while they heal. You can also try making gravy ice cubes or similar treats that require lots of time to be eaten.
When an outbreak occurs, your dog won’t recover overnight. Just like with humans, it can take about seven to ten days for your dog’s cold sores to clear up. Even if your dog has been previously diagnosed by a vet, you should still contact a medical expert if your dog’s symptoms don’t clear up after two weeks.
While there is no way to definitively protect your dog from contracting CHV, there are a variety of products on the market that can ease your dog’s discomfort and potentially shorten the amount of time needed for recovery. Even if your dog is in the adult stage of life when they contract CHV, it might be worthwhile to investigate supplements that are designed to promote immune health. After all, with a condition like CHV, you want to give your beloved pup the best chance at great health that they can get!