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What Is Puppy Strangles? (Symptoms & Treatment)
Puppy strangles, or juvenile cellulitis, is a rare but serious skin condition that most commonly affects young puppies. It is also sometimes referred to as sterile granulomatous dermatitis or lymphadenitis. It usually only affects puppies younger than 6 months of age and is very rarely seen in adult dogs.¹
Veterinary medicine professionals categorize this illness as idiopathic, meaning that the cause is unknown.2 However, symptoms seem to indicate that it’s the result of some kind of malfunction within the dog’s immune system.3
While puppy strangles can be life-threatening if left untreated, the prognosis is generally good when diagnosed early, and the condition usually doesn’t reoccur after treatment. In this article we’ll provide you with important information about this condition, as well as symptoms and treatment methods.
Symptoms of Puppy Strangles
So how do you know if your puppy has juvenile cellulitis? Fortunately, because it’s a skin condition, the symptoms associated with puppy strangles are typically visible to pet parents, making timely diagnosis more likely.
Symptoms of puppy strangles include:¹²
- Swelling: Typically seen in the face and neck, caused by swollen lymph nodes.
- Lesions: Fluid-filled lesions on the face, ears, muzzle, abdomen, and paws. Pus may be visibly draining.
- Lethargy: Fatigue and lethargy may occur as a result of physical pain.
- Fever: (103°F or higher)
- Anorexia: Swelling and painful lesions can cause discomfort while eating or drinking.
Your puppy will not feel well and may communicate this to you through increased whining or whimpering. If your little canine pal is usually full of energy, but suddenly seems non-reactive, tired or depressed, they may have come down with an illness like juvenile cellulitis. Such drastic changes in behavior are usually a sign that something is wrong, so it’s best to consult your veterinarian.
The condition needs to be treated quickly as symptoms can spread to other parts of the dog’s body. In severe cases, puppy strangles can result in various secondary infections.²
The underlying cause of puppy strangles is currently unknown. Since it doesn’t seem to be contagious between dogs, it’s likely not a viral illness. Ear infection is a common diagnosis when a puppy has juvenile cellulitis. This is either directly related to the condition, because sometimes the skin blisters develop in the ear, or as a secondary infection.¹ Symptoms tend to improve with the use of steroidal medications, so the current conclusion is that it’s an immune-linked disease. However, not much else is known about the cause of puppy strangles. Luckily, treatment is highly effective.²
Puppy strangles tends to be seen more often in Golden Retrievers, Gordon Setters, and Dachshunds, but can affect puppies of any breed. While it’s not contagious and can’t be transmitted between dogs and humans, it’s likely a genetic condition, so if one puppy in a litter develops juvenile cellulitis, it’s possible that the others will, too.¹
If you notice symptoms of puppy strangles or other signs that your pet is unwell, consult your veterinarian right away. Whether or not your pet is suffering from puppy strangles, it’s critical to rule out other conditions.
If your veterinarian suspects juvenile cellulitis, they will conduct a biopsy and culture of the lesions.4 If your puppy is really unwell, the vet may also take a blood sample.¹ Once the veterinarian has obtained the lab results, they can determine the appropriate course of treatment.
Treating Puppy Strangles
As discussed, early intervention is essential to effective treatment of puppy strangles, helping to minimize the chance of secondary infection and reduce scarring. Because puppy strangles is believed to be related to immune malfunction, the condition is typically treated with steroids such as prednisone or prednisolone.
However, steroids cause the immune system to suppress, making them risky drugs to give to young puppies whose immune systems are still developing and adapting to external pathogens in the environment. Because steroids can make your puppy more susceptible to illness, your veterinarian may prescribe a steroid in combination with an antibiotic, like Clavamox. This combination is generally considered the quickest and most efficient treatment for puppy strangles. Studies have found that the condition takes much longer to clear up when treated with antibiotics alone.5
How serious is puppy strangles?
Puppy strangles is a skin disease that can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. Take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice symptoms of this condition. Early intervention is also critical to the prevention of secondary infections and scarring.
How long do puppy strangles last?
Every dog is different. Breed, age, weight, and overall health will play a role in the length of treatment. Typically, symptoms will clear up within 10-14 days after treatment has begun, but antibiotics may be needed for an additional month or longer. Early diagnosis is crucial for treatment to be effective.
How do you get rid of puppy strangles?
Treatment for puppy strangles should only be carried out by a licensed veterinarian. They will first take a skin sample in order to diagnose your puppy with the condition. Once confirmed, they will likely prescribe steroids to treat the disease itself and antibiotics to combat any secondary infections.
Often, vets prescribe antibiotics as a general precaution, because there is a significantly increased risk of secondary infection with this disease. Fortunately, treatment is very effective and once treated, puppy strangles has a very low chance of recurrence.
Puppies should always be monitored closely, especially if they exhibit physical or behavioral changes. If your puppy is showing signs of juvenile cellulitis, it’s important to take them to the vet as quickly as possible. The vet will need to treat the disease with a combination of medications. The earlier that puppy strangles is diagnosed, the more likely it is that your puppy will recover fully without any serious scarring. If left untreated, it can spread and cause extreme discomfort for your pup — sometimes to the point where they stop eating or drinking altogether.
Dutch.com gives you the opportunity to speak with a licensed vet anytime. Wondering whether your new pup’s behavior is normal? Concerned about their health? Our vets are there for you, whenever, wherever you are. They’ll happily answer any questions and help alleviate concerns – you can even sign up for our prescription service to get your pet’s medications delivered right to your door. Go to Dutch.com to find out more about our tele-vet service.
Bell, Sophie. “What Is Puppy Strangles?” British Pet Insurance, The Petcover Group, 19 Apr. 2023, https://britishpetinsurance.co.uk/what-is-puppy-strangles/.
Sommers, Samantha, and Kelli Hanson. “Puppy Strangles - What Is It? What Causes It?” Ruff Start Rescue, 16 Sept. 2022, https://ruffstartrescue.org/2022/09/16/puppy-strangles-what-is-it-what-causes-it/.
“Puppy Strangles.” Totally Vets Animal Care & Expertise, Totally Vets New Zealand , https://www.totallyvets.co.nz/portfolio,portfolio,,1017,Puppy+strangles.html.
Diaz, Sandra. “Miscellaneous Diseases of the Pinna in Dogs and Cats - Ear Disorders.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, Aug. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/ear-disorders/diseases-of-the-pinna/miscellaneous-diseases-of-the-pinna-in-dogs-and-cats?query=juvenile+cellulitis.
- Penny, Kelsie N. “Quiet Puppy, Big Problems .” Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, 7 Feb. 2020.