What is Puppy Strangles?

Though the cause of this rare condition is not known, most puppies are able to make a complete recovery.


Puppy strangles—also known as canine juvenile cellulitis—is a rare condition in young puppies. Strangles primarily affects puppies between three weeks and six months of age. It is rarely seen in adult dogs.

Symptoms of Puppy Strangles

The first symptom of puppy strangles is sudden swelling of the face. The muzzle will appear swollen and the lips will feel thickened and warm. The skin around the eyes may become so swollen that a puppy cannot open his eyes. The ear pinnae (the floppy part of the ear) may also feel warm and swollen.

Raised bumps called pustules will develop on an affected puppy’s muzzle, lips, and ears within days of developing facial swelling. These pustules do not typically spread to other areas of the body, but they can rarely appear on a puppy’s paws or around the anus or vulva.

Many puppies with strangles will also feel tired and have a poor appetite. They may develop a fever. The pustules on their face may burst and then scab over. In rare cases, sores will develop in the skin over their swollen lymph nodes that rupture and drain pus. Some puppies may develop sore joints and either limp or walk with a stiff gait.

The lymph nodes under a puppy’s jaw will swell and be tender when touched. This is probably where the name “puppy strangles” came from. The swollen lymph nodes in a puppy with strangles look similar to those in horses that have strangles.

Causes and Diagnosis

The cause of strangles in horses is a bacteria called Streptococcus equi. However, the cause of strangles in puppies is not known. Puppy strangles is suspected to be an auto-immune disorder. This means that the puppy’s immune system is attacking the cells in the skin of the puppy’s face (and rarely other parts of the body).

There is no diagnostic test for puppy strangles—it is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that other causes for your puppy’s symptoms need to be ruled out before starting treatment for strangles. Your veterinarian may recommend tests such as blood work, a skin scraping to look for mites, and a skin cytology of the pustules to look for bacteria.

Treating Puppy Strangles

If other causes of your puppy’s symptoms are eliminated, then your veterinarian may prescribe treatment for strangles. Treatment involves prescribing a steroid called prednisone to suppress your puppy’s overactive immune system. An antibiotic is often prescribed since puppies with strangles are susceptible to a secondary bacterial infection of their skin.

Puppies with strangles are often on prednisone for at least 4-6 weeks. The facial swelling typically resolves in the first several days of receiving prednisone. They start to feel more energetic and begin to eat better. It can take several weeks of therapy to resolve their skin pustules and swollen lymph nodes.

The dose of prednisone necessary to treat strangles will increase a puppy’s thirst and appetite. They will drink more water and will need to be let outside more often to urinate. They may have urinary accidents inside the home. They will act hungrier than usual and demand more food.

Most puppies with strangles make a complete recovery from their illness and do not have a recurrence of the disease.