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Puppy Strangles: Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Puppy strangles is a rare skin disorder known as juvenile cellulitis. It strikes in puppies under four months old and the first symptom is swelling of the face, lips, muzzle, and throat.

This condition is treatable with an excellent prognosis (life expectancy) if treated early.

Here’s everything you need to know about puppy strangles, including the most common signs, how it’s diagnosed, and what methods your vet will use to treat it.

What is juvenile cellulitis (puppy strangles)?

Canine cellulitis, or puppy strangles, is an autoimmune and skin disorder that generally only affects young dogs under four months old.

Autoimmune disorders happen when the immune system malfunctions and begins attacking healthy cells in the body. It generally affects the muzzle, face, throat, and the lymph nodes in this area.

What causes puppy strangles?

Unfortunately, just like most autoimmune disorders, no one knows what causes puppy strangles. Certain breeds, like Gordon setters, Dachshunds, and Golden Retrievers, seem to be more prone to the disease, while some dog breeds are naturally healthier than others and rarely get it at all.

What are the signs of puppy strangles?

The first sign of puppy strangles is sudden-onset facial swelling of the muzzle, lips, eyelids, and throat.

The lymph nodes in the throat will also become swollen very quickly and it can almost look as though the puppy is strangling… hence the name “puppy strangles.”

Here are some other signs of puppy strangles that present as the disease progresses:

  • Pus-filled, oozing sores and/or crusty lesions on the face, head, and neck area
  • Pus-filled ear infections
  • Tenderness and discomfort in the affected area
  • Lethargy/lack of energy
  • Joint pain and fever
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Rarely, pus-filled or crusty lesions sometimes appear near the anus, reproductive organs, feet, and over the trunk of the puppy

Over time, the lesions on the puppy’s face can break open, eventually resulting in scabbing and potentially scarring. If the condition isn’t treated, the lymph nodes can actually burst, leaving nasty wounds with drainage from the pup’s sinus tracts.

How will your vet diagnose puppy strangles?

If you bring your pup to the vet with sudden-onset facial swelling accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes, he will immediately suspect puppy strangles. 

Puppy Strangles in Dogs

The first step to confirming the diagnosis is a complete health history and physical exam to rule out other causes, such as allergic reactions or parasites.

Your vet will also conduct skin scrapings and do cultures to rule out fungal infections such as ringworm and mange, which can have similar symptoms. 

A skin biopsy is rarely required to confirm the diagnosis.

A cytology is usually all that’s needed to reveal the specific form of inflammation that indicates juvenile cellulitis

Additional tests may also be conducted to diagnose secondary bacterial infections caused by the condition.

What is the prognosis for a dog with puppy strangles?

If puppy strangles is left untreated, it can be fatal. However, with proper veterinary care, the puppy’s system can heal and reverse the attack.

How do you treat strangles in puppies?

The treatment for juvenile cellulitis starts with immunosuppressive agents like cyclosporine to stop the puppy’s immune system from attacking itself.

Steroids such as prednisone are also prescribed to fight inflammation, while antibiotics are given to fight secondary-infections that can often as a result of the condition. 

This combination of drugs will give your puppy the best prognosis possible. Your vet may also prescribe a topical medication to soothe your puppy’s skin and provide some pain relief.

How can you help your puppy at home?

Although you can’t cure puppy strangles at home, there are some things you can do to make your pup more comfortable while he’s undergoing veterinary care.

The human-animal bond is very strong, so just being there for your puppy will be beneficial for his health and wellbeing.

Here are some other things you can do at home:

  • Soak any crusted sores with warm water and gently wipe them off. Use a betadine soap to clean the area.
  • If the lymph nodes abscess, keep the area clean with a warm wet cloth.
  • Apply a warm pack to your puppy’s swollen face and throat a few times each day.

Keep in mind that affected areas will be incredibly sore and tender, so you’ll need to be extremely gentle.

How long does puppy strangles last?

Every dog is different, but in general, the quicker you act, the faster your puppy will recover. Some puppies recover in just a few weeks, but more severe cases can last for months.

Can puppy strangles recur?

Puppies who have had puppy strangles usually have antibodies to the disease. Recurrence is very rare, but it can happen.

Is it contagious?

No, puppy strangles is not contagious to other dogs or people. It is caused by a malfunction in the immune system.

Is it hereditary?

No one knows for sure, but there is reason to believe that it might be since certain breeds are more prone to it than others.


If you suspect that your puppy may have puppy strangles, contact your vet immediately. The faster you act the better your puppy’s prognosis will be. Putting off treatment also increases the likelihood of scarring and may result in higher veterinary bills, too.

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