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Puppy Strangles Alert

I want to alert you to a condition that may onset in puppies between the ages of two and four months. Because it is often misdiagnosed and because it has potentially fatal consequences, you may want to bring this information to your veterinarian’s attention should your puppy present any of the typical symptoms:

It has a number of symptoms, any and all of which may occur, and in varying order. Among them are the appearance of small, pimple-like bumps around the eyes, the muzzle, the abdomen, and other parts of the body. These mock the appearance of bacterial rashes, and may break open and weep a yellowish liquid and then crust over. While many minor conditions may cause a belly rash on pups, the presence of pustules inside the ears is a real warning sign. They begin quite small and can eventually cover the inner surface of the ear with weeping pustules. The entire ear leather may also swell significantly. Other signs include discharge from, swelling of, and hair loss around the eyes, swelling of the muzzle with attendant hair loss, and swollen lymph nodes in the throat and in the backs of the thighs. Be particularly concerned if rash-like areas are accompanied by swollen glands.

Essentially what is going on with the pups is that their immune systems are activated by normal development and environmental exposures but then overreact and start identifying the body’s own tissues as agents to attack. The lymph glands swell since it is the lymphatic system that supplies and distributes the body’s immune responses, and the pustules are actually filled with non-infected, sterile lymphatic fluid. You might think of the pup as having temporarily become allergic to himself.

The condition is evidently not an uncommon one and can occur in all breeds of dogs. It cannot be transmitted by contact from one littermate to another, or to anything or anyone else; and it can occur in one, a few, or all of the pups in a litter. The cause is not completely understood, but it does not seem to be a genetic problem. It generally onsets in pups between the ages of two and four months, takes two to eight weeks to run its course, and if properly treated, leaves the pup with a completely healthy and functional immune system and no effect on future health or lifespan.

Because the immune system is running amok, so to speak, treatment consists of suppressing its action with corticosteroids, usually prednisone, with associated backup antibiotics in case of exposure to bacterial infection while the immune system is suppressed. Depending on the severity of the condition and the pup’s response to treatment, the course of medication will run two to eight weeks. It is important to monitor the pup carefully once treatment has stopped. If the condition recurs, medication must be reinstituted for a longer period. Eventually the immune system will sort itself out. If the condition goes unidentified and untreated for some time, there may be rather extensive facial hair loss, which may result in some permanent adult scarring, but this is not the usual case. The other grave danger to the pup comes from the swelling of the lymph glands in the throat, which may actually enlarge to the point where they interfere with the pup’s swallowing and breathing, thus the name puppy strangles.

Puppy Strangles

Puppy Strangles

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