What is Puppy Strangles?Have you ever noticed bumps appear on the muzzle of a puppy along with other facial swelling? This could be a condition called puppy strangles also known as juvenile cellulitis. It is not a common disease and we do not understand why puppies suddenly start reacting in such a manor. Golden retrievers, dachshund, and Gordon setters are said to have a higher incidence but I have seen it occur in many other breeds. The key is to recognize and treat early before muzzle hair loss starts and the animal is miserable and off food.
Clinical PictureUsually puppy strangles starts with eyelid swelling, followed by bumps appearing on the muzzle, lip swelling and lastly the lymph nodes under the jaw swell. As it progresses, the puppy looks like it has mumps as lymph nodes swelling can be marked. That is also how this condition gets the name puppy strangles as it can push on the trachea. It develops quickly between the ages of three weeks and four months of age with the first sign of marked swelling of the muzzle, eyelids, and face. Oftentimes, the owner thinks the puppy was bitten by a stinging insect or a spider.
Left untreated the lesions of the muzzle will rupture and ooze bloody serum. They are painful but not itchy as most reactions are. Twenty-five percent of puppies with this condition do not want to eat or do not eat well and act like it is sore to swallow. Puppies can be sore jointed and walking can be painful with puppy strangles but most are not.
TreatmentSince the heart of this issue is an immune reaction that is fighting the lymph tissue in the face and lymph nodes under the jaw, immune suppression is the key to treatment. You literally need to convince the body this lymph tissue is normal and should not be rejected by the immune system!
Veterinarians typically start with IV dexamethasone then send home oral prednisone tablets to complete therapy. The best treatment is high dose steroids to get the issue under control then taper those off. The dose is typically decreased by 25 percent after a response is seen and then decrease the dose weekly until stopped. If you stop treatment too early, the puppy will relapse. Steroids are a prescription item and your veterinarian can help you with the dose and weekly tapering dose. Antibiotics are not the answer but are often used if the bumps on the muzzle are open in a progressive case.
Recognizing puppy strangles early is key to a quick cure. With early treatment, most puppies are normal by ten to fourteen days. Caught late or waiting and seeing usually results in a 21 to 30 day treatment course and facial hair loss. Hair will grow back with time once treatment is completed.
Don Bramlage, DVM, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
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