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What are the Puppy Strangles?

01/12/2018 by Colleen Williams
January 12th, 2018 by Colleen Williams

Golden Retriever Zeek

Sometimes called Juvenile Cellulitis, the “puppy strangles” is a rare immune disorder that shows up as a painful skin condition, affecting puppies aged three weeks to four months in age. The face, outer part of the ear, and salivary lymph nodes are the most common sites to be affected; it is most seen in golden retrievers, dachshunds, and Gordon setters. The cause isn’t completely known, but vets think it might be a hereditary condition.

Symptoms come on suddenly – there is acute (sudden and severe) swelling of the pup’s face – especially the eye area and eyelids, mouth, and muzzle. There can be lesions with complications that include tenderness, drying out, and conversely, oozing. The puppy suffering from the disease shows lethargy, loss of appetite, and will be running a fever. He/she may have stiff joints and the lesions can spread to the trunk. The disease can be devastating, especially to a puppy who should be a bounding bundle of joy, and can be fatal if left untreated.

Pet parent Isaac knows all about the puppy strangles. His golden retriever, Zeek, was diagnosed with the disease ​when he was roughly four months old after quite a bit of back and forth on the diagnosis. “At first, Zeek had very low energy, was​ sleeping a lot and not eating for two to three days. He also developed a lump in the side of his​ neck. The vet thought he was fighting an infection and treated the symptoms with antibiotics.”

When Zeek’s condition did not improve (and actually worsened), Isaac went back to the vet who then recommended a CT scan of the area. “The scan was done in an emergency pet hospital where they quickly diagnosed his condition and hospitalized him. At that point, his lymph nodes expanded to the size of apples [and were] restricting his airways! He required emergency surgery to have a set of his lymph nodes removed.”

If a vet suspects juvenile cellulitis, they can perform a biopsy, however symptoms can be inconclusive and lesions don’t yield accurate results during lab testing. Because of this, the disease had progressed to an emergency situation for Zeek. Additionally, the stress and worry on both Zeek’s humans and the pup himself were quite an ordeal – no one wants their precious pup to be so sick, so young.

“After a long recovery period and post-surgical steroid treatment, [Zeek] is back to normal,” says Isaac. “He loves chasing leaves, squirrels and birds, and he’s – of course – a huge fan of tennis balls. He’s completely healed from his condition.” Luckily, Isaac had enrolled Zeek in pet health insurance early, so the emergency surgery totaling $1,232 was covered and Isaac was reimbursed $1,014.

Most pups who are diagnosed with puppy strangles face a rough road: vets recommend catching it early to avoid scarring, as well as aggressive steroid therapy (usually corticosteroids are prescribed). In rare cases, puppy strangles must be treated for a lengthy amount of time with treatments like chemotherapy, antibiotics, and further prescriptions. While most puppies survive, it isn’t without risk: if it’s not treated in a timely manner, the puppy risks scarring and death. If you suspect your puppy has the disease, mention it to your vet right away.

Zeek’s family enrolled him as soon as they could, which means they avoided pre-existing condition exceptions. Because of this, his health issues will be covered as long as they are Healthy Paws customers. Enroll your puppy today to make sure they also can receive the best care possible. Start by getting a free quote.