Puppy infections and puppy strangles

We’re having an absolutely fascinating discussion on the canine repro list I belong to, and I thought it was important enough to pass along. When a bunch of breeders all start telling stories, it’s very cool what they figure out.

The background:

There’s a very scary-sounding disease called “puppy strangles” (named after a horse disease that causes the horse to wheeze and sound strangled, hence the name) that affects puppies right around the time of weaning. It’s one of the disorders that are a sign of an immune issue, like mange and puppy pimples. Puppy strangles is a massive inflammation of the lymph nodes in the neck, and the face can swell dramatically too. Puppies will get a huge lump under the chin and will get cracked and oozing sores along the jaw and lips and eye rims.

Genuine puppy strangles is treated like you’d treat a huge allergic reaction – antibiotics do nothing. You have to hit them with daily prednisone and it can take months on pred for the puppy to heal. Once they get over it, they’re usually fine for life and none of the people on the list that had seen genuine strangles (thankfully, I am not one of them) saw it affect the dog later in life. They had all placed those puppies as pets once the ordeal of treatment was over, but there was no consensus on whether these dogs “should” be spayed/neutered. It just tended to always happen because the puppy had been so sick that the breeder automatically took him or her out of the show hunt.

Fortunately, true puppy strangles is very rare.

The discovery we’re all making:

What is NOT particularly rare is what a lot of vets and breeders call “strangles.” The puppy, who can be as young as just a couple of weeks old, gets a sudden fever, swollen glands, and a high white blood cell count. However -and this is key – this illness responds immediately and easily to antibiotics. True strangles isn’t touched by antibiotics.

We’re all guessing that there’s an epidemic of misnaming as “strangles” some kind of strep or staph infection that causes lymph nodes to swell.

Puppies ALSO get skin staph that doesn’t require any treatment – these cause the puppy pimples that are so common in the giant breeds.

What is starting to sound like a good idea:

If you have a puppy of any age that suddenly has very swollen glands and a fever, try antibiotics first EVEN IF the vet says “strangles.” If it’s not a bacteria, you’ll know soon because antibiotics won’t help.

If you have a puppy that supposedly has a bacterial infection but antibiotics aren’t working and you see the face start to swell, suspect puppy strangles and switch the antibiotic for prednisone. If it works, you may need to use prednisone for weeks or even a couple of months until the puppy’s immune system stops going nuts.

To recap:


REAL STRANGLES (from Marvistavet)

clara front page

PUPPY SKIN STAPH (my pic) – see the dry white bumps on the muzzle and top of the nose?



Yes, that’s sweet Maizey (“Hermione” from Bronte’s litter), who was lethargic and was running a fever and whose vet called it strangles (and yet prescribed antibiotics).

Clavamox cleared her up in a matter of 48 hours, so it most definitely was not strangles.


11 thoughts on “Puppy infections and puppy strangles

  1. I’m still a little unclear as to what she had — the vet called it strangles, due to her lymph glands being swollen and the fact that she had a fever and elevated lymphocytes. She’s been on abx for two weeks, and was checked again after a week and her lymphocytes were down to normal, although still on the high end of normal. (Of course I am absolutely _freaking out_ over this and have been on the phone and email and texting with Joanna and Kate 24/7 since this all began.)

    Per Joanna’s instructions, I fed her cooked meat for a week, but now she’s back on raw — although I’m trying to make it a more well-rounded diet.

    The other aspect of this is that I think the vet is an idiot. When I asked her about the “small bald spot above Maizey’s eye,” aka localized Mange, she said it was nothing. Also, she fired me because she doesn’t believe in children + puppies! I’m taking her to a new vet on Monday morning (sans kids) and we’ll see what he thinks.

    The upshot of all of this is that (1) I’m trying to breathe and remain calm (2) I’m feeding her a more balanced raw diet (3) Yeah that’s about it.

  2. I have a pup with the real deal (strangles) and It’s so sad to see him hurting. My pup is on both Predisone (7.5mg a day x 2 weeks and then a reducing dose from there)) as well as a twice a day antibiotic (to fight secondary infection d/t the ulcers). It’s been 8 days since he started treatment. He is still very playful, but he gets tired easily (which I’m sure is true of most pups) What I would like to know is if there is anything I can use to treat the weeping ulcers? Hydriocortisone cream maybe? If anyone has suggestions…….

    • Oh, I am SO sorry that your boy is having such a hard time.

      The rule with any broken skin is to let the body heal itself. You can rinse rinse rinse rinse with saline solution and use super clean soft towels, but you shouldn’t put anything on them. The prednisone and antibiotics will work from the inside out, and you want all that infection to drain so the puppy can heal properly.

    • Hi Ashley

      When my puppy Argus came down with puppy strangles I too was very heart sore. We tried cleaning his face but he cried so so much. After about 2 weeks of giving him prednisone , we started cleaning his face with diluted savlon. We did this for about a week but he was making such a good recovery on his own that we just left it. He is 100% today , he has been off the prednisone for almost a week now. If you have any questions , please email at Sheepofthefarm@gmail.com

  3. Hi everyone , my puppy Argus has just made a full recovery from puppy strangles. It took us about a month to diagnose him and about another month and a half to treat him with corticosteroids. If anyone has any questions about puppy strangles , I would love to share my experience with you. I have posted an article on Wikipedia entitled “Puppy Strangles” and “Juvenile Cellulitis”. I hope that this will help people make a quicker diagnoses so that their puppy does not have to suffer. My vet could not figure out what was wrong with Argus and only after a lot of googling did I find out what it was. Feel free to email me at Sheepofthefarm@gmail.com with any questions

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