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Key takeaways

Puppy strangles describes a sudden onset inflammatory disease most commonly seen in puppies between 3-16 weeks old.

  • Initial symptoms include swelling around the lips, eyelids, and muzzle
  • Symptoms rapidly progress to sores and scabs at the site of the swelling, lethargy, poor appetite, and swollen lymph nodes
  • The underlying disease process is unknown
  • Strangles often affects several puppies in the litter which suggests an inherited dysfunction of the immune system
  • Diagnosis includes physical examination, blood work, skin scrapes, and biopsies to rule out alternative triggers
  • Treatment options include steroids alongside treatment of secondary infections
  • Prognosis following treatment is excellent with significant improvement expected within 48 hours
  • Most puppies recover fully without lasting damage
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A closer look: Puppy Strangles in Dogs

Puppy strangles is an uncommon, painful, and distressing condition in young dogs that presents suddenly with severe facial swelling. Prognosis is excellent and most dogs make a full recovery.

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Risk factors

Puppy strangles vary in severity. Some dogs present with minor swelling of the lips and face and are otherwise unaffected. Other puppies develop severe, widespread swelling of the face and neck and are very painful.

Skin lesions on the face are usually symmetrical.

Possible causes

The medical term for puppy strangles is juvenile sterile granulomatous dermatitis and lymphadenitis.

  • Juvenile: it’s most common in puppies
  • Sterile: it doesn’t occur as the result of an infection, although the skin sores may be initially mistaken as infections
  • Granulomatous: the bumps and swelling are caused by infiltration with immune cells
  • Dermatitis: inflammation of the skin
  • Lymphadenitis: inflammation of the lymph nodes

The underlying disease process behind puppy strangles is not fully understood. Strangles is often seen in multiple puppies from the same litter suggesting an inherited dysfunction of the immune system. There is no association with infection but infection sometimes occurs secondarily.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of puppy strangles involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work
  • Skin scrapes for mite infections
  • Impression smears for bacterial infection
  • Biopsy confirms diagnosis but is not always necessary

Steps to Recovery

Treatment options include:

  • Steroids
  • Antibiotics in cases of secondary infection
  • Pain medication

Prognosis following initiation of treatment is excellent. Improvement of pain and swelling occurs within 48 hours and full resolution normally takes 10-14 days. Recurrence is uncommon


Prevention of individual cases is not possible. Puppy strangles may have an inherited component. Dogs that develop puppy strangles should not be bred.

Is Puppy Strangles in Dogs common?

Puppy strangles is uncommon in dogs.It usually occurs young dogs between 3-16 weeks old

Typical Treatment

  • Steroids
  • Antibiotics
  • Pain medication


Rosanna Marsella DVM DipACVD - Writing for Vetlexicon

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