Strangles in Dogs

Strangles is a condition that affects puppies younger than four months of age. Vets don't fully understand what causes puppy strangles, but they believe that it may be at least partly hereditary in origin. Learn more about this mysterious illness, its symptoms and its treatment.

Risk Factors for Puppy Strangles

Strangles occurs in dogs younger than four months old. It causes inflammation, crusting and pustules of the skin. Vets believe that strangles may have a genetic component in dogs. It occurs most often in Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds and mixes of those breeds.

Symptoms of Strangles in Puppies

Strangles causes pustules, inflammation and crusting to appear on the lips, ears, eyes, chin and snout. Weeping lesions form, which generally scab over after a few days. Severe scarring can occur as the lesions heal; hair loss is the affected areas is also common. Secondary ear infections often occur as a result of lesions inside the ears. 

In addition to skin symptoms, puppies may experience fever, lethargy and depression. Joint pain and swelling of the affected area, especially the muzzle, are common. Anorexia and fever may occur in rare cases. Hair follicles may become inflamed, causing hard bumps or nodules to appear just beneath the surface of the skin. 

Diagnosing and Treating Strangles in Puppies

Your vet will need to perform a complete physical exam, and will need your dog's medical history. Skin scrapings will be necessary to confirm a diagnosis of strangles. Skin biopsies are also taken, usually while the dog is sedated, to ease the discomfort of the procedure. The symptoms of strangles are often similar to those of demodectic mange and allergies. 

Treatment for puppy strangles usually involves administering a combination of antibiotics and steroid drugs. These medications will need to be administered several times daily. Steroids are used to treat the inflammation associated with the disease, and promote the healing of lesions. Antibiotics help to prevent or treat secondary infections, which can lead to increased scarring and serious complications.

Your puppy will need high doses of steroid drugs, such as prednisone, to treat his strangles. When administered orally in high doses, steroid drugs such as prednisone can cause gastric ulcers. You'll need to keep a close eye on your puppy for symptoms of gastric ulcers while he is receiving steroid treatment. Symptoms of gastric ulcers include vomiting, diarrhea and dark brown or black stools.

You will need to follow your vet's instructions carefully when administering your puppy's medication. When properly treated, puppy strangles usually doesn't come back. However, relapse can occur if medication isn't administered properly. 

Scarring is a very common complication of puppy strangles. Scars can be extensive and severe. Prevent severe scarring by seeking veterinary care for your puppy right away. Follow your vet's home care instructions carefully, and avoid any aggressive cleaning or topical treatment of your puppy's lesions. 

While there is no way to prevent puppy strangles, it usually clears up with proper treatment. In most cases, puppy strangles does not come back.