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Puppy strangles: What it is and why it occurs

puppy strangles
"Puppy strangles" is a skin condition that affects puppies younger than 12 weeks.

Last Updated on October 13, 2021 by Jackie Castle


Recently I took my puppy to the vet. While we were patiently waiting in our seats, there was another lady and her puppy right across from us. Now, I’m not the one to stare, but this lady’s puppy looked different. I guess the lady noticed my concern and quietly said “It’s puppy strangles.”

This kind of caught me off guard, and I instinctively said: “Huh?”. She proceeded to tell me that her adorable puppy suffered from a condition called Juvenile cellulitis, or puppy strangles. She didn’t get the chance to explain the condition to me, the vet assistant called me and my pup for our appointment. But, the sight of the poor puppy didn’t leave my mind. So, when I got home I did some research, and I want to share with you what I learned.

The reason why I want to share it with you is because of the fact that not many people know about this condition, but it’s so important to raise awareness.

Juvenile cellulitis or “puppy strangles”

Puppy strangles is not that common. It’s a skin condition that affects puppies younger than 12 weeks. It’s most common among Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, Dachshunds, Springer spaniels, and Brittany spaniels. Sometimes it can also affect older dogs up to four years old.

Sadly, no one knows what causes this condition, that’s why experts say it’s idiopathic. But, what we do know is that it has an immune-mediated component. This means that the puppy’s immune system is attacking its skin.

Signs

I know puppy strangles sounds scary, but don’t worry. It can be cured. But, to cure it, you first need to identify it, and for that, you have to know the signs.

As already mentioned, this condition happens when your puppy’s immune system isn’t working right. If your puppy has this condition you’ll notice deep sores on its face. These sores can become so bad that they reach the lymph nodes of your pup’s neck. If this happens their neck will swell with hard knots under their jaw, and it will look like your puppy will strangle. That’s also where the name puppy strangles comes from.

Video explaining what “puppy strangles” are

Signs of this condition are:

  • pustules on the face
  • painful swelling of the lips, eyelids, glands and whole face
  • swelling in the groin area where the lymph glads are
  • lymphs can become abscessed, break open and drain

But, your puppy won’t only have face sores. They can also develop a fever, become lethargic and even stop eating. If this happens their blood sugar can drop which complicates the condition further.

Diagnosis and treatment

Puppy strangles are not the only skin condition that affects dogs. That’s why your vet has to do many tests to really be sure what is going on with your pup. It can look like puppy strangles, but be another skin disease. Your vet might do skin scrapings to rule out mange and they might even use fungal cultures to rule out ringworm. Both of these conditions can look like Juvenile Cellulitis.

Your vet might even recommend a skin biopsy where they will collect a full-thickness skin sample and give it to a lab for examination. If your vet is positive that your dog is suffering from puppy strangles then they will start treatment. But how does the treatment look like?

The only treatment that will be effective is suppressing the immune system. Basically, to make the immune system stop hurting your puppy. To do this your vet will prescribe drugs such as prednisone. Your dog will have to take it for a couple of weeks to really start working. But, there are several side effects to this drug such as:

  • increased thirst
  • increased urination
  • high appetite

Your vet might even give your dog antibiotics. Now, bacteria doesn’t cause this condition, but because of the sores on your dog’s skin secondary bacterial infections can develop.

What you can do

I think every dog owner is the same, when we see our pup suffering, we just want to help. It’s no different with this condition either. I know I’d be looking for ways to ease my dog’s pain. But is there something we can do in the case of puppy strangles? Can we help, and more importantly should we even do something?

Before you try out any method a fellow dog owner recommended to you please talk to your vet! They will give you the best advice on how you can help your dog.

With that being said, there are some home remedies that might make things a bit easier for your pup.

You can apply hot packs on your dog’s sore face a couple of times a day. For this just rinse a clean washcloth with hot water, wring out the excess, and put it on your dog’s swollen throat. The moisture and heat from the washcloth can improve blood circulation in that area which can help heal the wounds.

Your puppy probably also has sores on its face. Those sores usually burst and crust over. Of course, this isn’t comfortable for your pup, but you can help out a bit. The most important rule is to keep that area clean. Soak the areas with warm water and then gently wipe them off. Next, wash the area with a 2,5 percent benzoyl peroxide cleanser.

Lastly, you have to clean the lymph nodes that have abscessed. For this clean the spots three to four times a day with a warm cloth. Apply it to the affected area and leave for 10 minutes. But, always remember to be gentle. Don’t hurt your dog.

Conclusion

Puppy strangles are a scary condition, but it’s not life-threatening for your dog! So, if you notice any signs of it, don’t panic. Take your pup to the vet for tests, so you can rule out any other possibilities.

The good news is also that this condition is very rare, and that your pup will fully recover from them. Once they got all the medication, your pup is likely to experience a full recovery. But some scars might remain.

While you’re here read our other articles on puppies:

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