When you think about sexually transmitted diseases, you probably don’t immediately think about your furry family members and their likelihood of catching one. When you hear about STDs, it’s usually about how people can avoid getting one by practicing safe sex. It is possible for your dog to get a canine STD as well. Not only that, it’s possible for your dog to transmit an STD to you — though this is extremely rare.
To keep your pup safe it’s important to be aware of the type of canine STD that your dog could transmit, their symptoms, treatment options, as well as how to prevent them. Finally, you also should know how to prevent yourself from catching an STD from your dog.
Three types of canine STD
The STDs that a human is in danger of catching and the STDs your dog is at risk of catching aren’t the same. Each disease is a little bit different and will carry different symptoms, treatment options, prevention tactics, and prognosis. The three most prevalent canine STDs you should be aware of are:
- Canine herpes virus: This virus, also known as CHV, is not the same as the herpes virus that can infect humans, though it is in the same family. While it’s not fatal to many adult dogs, it’s hazardous for newborn puppies. It can be transmitted through mating, inhaling the virus through coughs or sneezes, drinking from a contaminated bowl, or sniffing or licking a dog shedding the virus. Puppies commonly get the virus from their mothers.
- Brucellosis: Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that can cause fertility issues for both male and female dogs who are infected. It’s also highly dangerous for puppies. It’s spread through mating or contact with infected bodily fluids. Puppies can contract it from their mother during birth.
- Canine transmissible venereal tumors: This STD, also called CTVTs, and is one of the only transmissible cancers in mammals. Mating transmits the disease. Licking, biting or sniffing the tumor also can spread the disease.
The symptoms of each type of STD will be different, as will how it presents in a dog depending on its age, gender, and health. However, you should always visit the vet if your dog is exhibiting a worrisome change for a prolonged period. Some warning signs to see the vet are more visible, but may not mean the dog has a canine STD. Some STDs may not have any noticeable symptoms.
- Canine herpes virus: There often aren’t any symptoms of CHV in adult dogs, especially males. Rarely, you might see kennel cough related to CHV, or raised genital sores. Most often, symptoms include pregnancy loss or stillbirth. In puppies, symptoms include weakness, persistent crying, lack of appetite, nasal discharge, or blindness, among others.
- Brucellosis: Symptoms of brucellosis include lethargy, difficulty walking, back pain, vaginal discharge, or swollen testicles. Female dogs may experience pregnancy loss and stillbirths. Puppies with brucellosis may seem weak and lethargic and often don’t live long.
- Canine transmissible venereal tumors: Symptoms of CTVTs include the appearance of a tumor on both female and male genitals, or even the mouth or nose. It may present with a cauliflower-like appearance, discharge, or urinary retention.
Treatment and prevention
Thankfully, all three of the most common canine STDs are extremely rare in spayed and neutered domestic animals. Treatment and prevention will depend on the type of STD, though the best way to prevent each of them is to have your pet spayed or neutered. Just as human STDs like HIV and AIDS are most common in specific populations, the same goes for canine STDs. Stray dogs who are not fixed and have no access to veterinary care are the most at-risk for STDs. There are no vaccines for these STDs available in the United States.
- Canine herpes virus: Antiviral medication and supportive care can treat CHV in dogs, though when puppies contract the virus if often results in “fading puppy syndrome.” Puppies are often not given medication early enough, and many don’t survive even if they do receive medication. The best prevention is to have your dog spayed or neutered. Responsible breeding with frequent testing is also essential.
- Brucellosis: Brucellosis is incurable. Antibiotics can help control the infection, but no treatment is effective in eliminating the disease. Because brucellosis commonly causes infertility, puppies born with brucellosis are rare, and those that are born often don’t survive. The best prevention is for a dog to be spayed or neutered. Responsible breeders should test often.
- Canine transmissible venereal tumors: Treatment for CTVTs include surgery and chemotherapy. It’s most deadly in puppies and immunosuppressed dogs. The best prevention for CTVTs is to have your dog fixed and to keep them secure and supervised so they can’t interact with stray dogs that are most susceptible.
Can my dog infect me with a canine STD?
Of the three most common canine STDs, brucellosis is a zoonotic disease, which can be transmitted from animals to humans. It’s extremely rare for a human to contract brucellosis from their dog, but it can happen. Most often, brucellosis is transmitted from animals to humans through cows by way of unprocessed dairy. Those who breed dogs or treat them medically are more likely to come into contact with blood or secretions of an infected animal that can result in contracting brucellosis than a pet owner. People with a compromised immune system due to age or health problems should avoid contact with an infected dog.
It is possible for your dog to get an STD. Unfortunately, many of them are serious, especially for puppies. Because we can’t teach dogs to use protection or practice safe sex, it’s up to dog owners to work towards eliminating canine STD problems. Reducing the stray population, spaying, and neutering, and responsible breeding can minimize risk. It’s helpful to understand which canine STDs are most common as well as their symptoms, treatment options, and how to prevent them. Finally, though contracting an STD from your dog is extremely rare, it’s still good to be on the safe side. If you suspect your dog has contracted an STD, visit your vet immediately.
– Noah Rue