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Puppy Strangles in Dogs

What is Puppy Strangles in Dogs?

Puppy strangles, also known as juvenile cellulitis, sterile granulomatous dermatitis, or lymphadenitis, is a rare skin condition primarily found in young puppies.

It manifests through abrupt facial swelling, particularly around the muzzle and eyelids, accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes in the neck region. The swelling can be so severe that it resembles strangulation, hence the name “strangles.” Additionally, the condition presents oozing, crusted lesions resembling pimples on the skin, often causing discomfort to the affected puppy.

Initial symptoms of strangles may lead pet owners to mistake it for snake or spider bites. However, regardless of the suspected cause, any noticeable swelling warrants immediate veterinary attention. Left untreated, strangles can pose life-threatening risks.

Typically, strangles targets puppies aged between 3 weeks and 6 months, although cases have been reported in dogs as old as 4 years.

Symptoms and Types

Puppy strangles typically presents with the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Swelling of the face
  • Enlargement of lymph nodes, often starting with those under the chin and in the neck area
  • Swollen joints
  • Lethargy
  • Pain
  • Skin lesions characterized by bleeding, crusting, and oozing, commonly found on the face, muzzle, and ears, though they may also appear on the paws, anus, and genital regions
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced water intake
  • Hair loss
  • Limping or lameness


The precise cause of puppy strangles remains unknown, although experts believe it stems from an aberrant immune system response, particularly as it predominantly affects young dogs with still-developing immune systems. Treatment with high doses of steroids, which function by dampening immune activity, often yields positive outcomes.

Furthermore, there might be a hereditary aspect to the condition, as certain breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Gordon Setters, and Dachshunds exhibit a higher susceptibility to developing puppy strangles.


Veterinarians typically initiate the diagnostic process by conducting a physical examination of your dog, focusing on identifying key symptoms like symmetrical facial swelling, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and painful, crusted skin lesions. While these indicators strongly suggest puppy strangles, further tests are usually conducted to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Bloodwork, including a complete blood count: Strangles-affected dogs commonly exhibit elevated white blood cell counts and mild-to-moderate anemia, indicating a low red blood cell count.
  • Cytology of the skin lesions: This involves collecting samples directly from the oozing lesions, examining them under a microscope, or sending them to a lab for analysis. This test helps determine if the dog has developed a secondary bacterial infection due to strangles.
  • Skin scrapings and hair pluck testing: These examinations help exclude other potential causes of skin lesions such as mange, fungus, and ringworm.
  • Bacterial or fungal cultures: These tests may be recommended to rule out infections.
  • Skin biopsy: While aggressive, a skin biopsy provides a definitive diagnosis of puppy strangles by identifying specific skin changes like granulomas and pyogranulomas associated with the condition. However, it’s usually reserved for cases where diagnosis and treatment cannot be confirmed through other means.


Puppy strangles can cause significant pain and increase susceptibility to bacterial infections in affected dogs. If left untreated, severe infections or refusal to eat due to pain can escalate strangles to a fatal condition.

Thankfully, treatment is highly effective. It primarily focuses on alleviating the overactive immune response and reducing inflammation in the pet. Typically, veterinarians prescribe Prednisone, a steroid, or another immunosuppressive medication like Cyclosporine.

During the treatment process, dogs may require high doses of steroids for several weeks or months, with a gradual tapering of the dosage once improvement is observed. Additionally, antibiotics may be necessary if any skin lesions become infected with bacteria. To manage discomfort, veterinarians might also recommend pain medication for the affected dog.

Living and Management

Typically, dogs undergoing treatment for puppy strangles show signs of improvement within a few days, although complete resolution of the condition may take 10 to 14 days. It’s worth noting that some degree of hair loss or skin scarring may be permanent.

It is crucial to refrain from popping any pustules, as this can cause discomfort to your dog and increase the risk of bacterial infection.

At present, there is no known method for preventing puppy strangles. However, once treated, it generally does not recur.

Puppy Strangles in Dogs FAQs

Do puppies fully recover from puppy strangles?

Yes, with appropriate treatment, puppies typically achieve full recovery.

How does a puppy contract puppy strangles?

Puppy strangles is considered idiopathic, meaning its exact cause is unknown. It’s likely triggered by an exaggerated immune response, as it often responds to high doses of steroids that suppress immune activity.

Is puppy strangles contagious?

No, puppy strangles cannot be transmitted to other animals or humans.

How long does it take for puppy strangles to heal?

With proper treatment, symptoms of puppy strangles usually resolve within 10 to 14 days. In more severe cases, the healing process may take longer.

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