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petplan pet insurance presents: a primer on puppy strangles

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


I got a text message a couple of months ago from an old family friend who was in a panic about her soon-to-be adopted puppy. Her puppy still lived with his mom, and though he didn't even have a name yet, my friend was worried that he might not make it to her house.  She described his symptoms and I knew right away that it must be juvenile cellulitis, more commonly called puppy strangles.


While there’s a lot we still don’t know about the condition, puppy strangles seems to be caused by an overactive immune system. It occurs in puppies between 3 weeks and 4 months old, and while it can happen in any puppy, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Gordon Setters, and Huskies seem to be predisposed. The symptoms of strangles are pretty classic; it starts with sudden swelling of the muzzle and eyelids. The swelling gives way to pustules, which cover the affected areas, including the muzzle and area around the eyes as well as the ear flaps.  As the pustules grow, they rupture, bleed, and crust over. This all makes for a very unsightly puppy!

In addition to the skin changes, the lymph nodes will enlarge and affected puppies may be feverish and lethargic. Some pups will also have swollen, painful joints. Severe cases can quickly become life threatening if untreated.

Diagnosing puppy strangles can generally be done during a physical exam, and care must be taken to not confuse this condition with other fungal or parasitic diseases. Both a skin scrape and a fungal culture should be performed to rule out mange mites or ringworm. Some veterinarians will also choose to take a sample from the swollen lymph nodes to make sure there is no accompanying bacterial infection.

It is important to rule out other underlying diseases before starting treatment, because treatment centers on suppressing the affected puppy’s overactive immune system. This is done using high-dose steroids like prednisone. Some puppies will also need antibiotics to treat secondary infections that develop. Having dog insurance from Petplan pet insurance can help you manage the costs of caring for your best friend during this time.

If a puppy has lost fur on his face from the swelling and pustules, it can take a little time for the hair to re-grow, but generally, puppies respond well to treatment and recover in about two weeks. 

Have you ever dealt with puppy strangles? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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Pippa ElliottGuest Blogger of Petplan
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