Puppy strangles is a scary term for a condition of the skin more technically described as juvenile cellulitis or puppy pyoderma. While it’s not a common problem, it most frequently affects puppies younger than 12 weeks old. Puppy strangles is especially problematic in Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Brittany spaniels, springer spaniels, and dachshunds.
Puppy strangles is a result of an immune malfunction. The skin, especially on the face, becomes infected with deep sores. These sores can become so involved that they reach the lymph nodes of the neck. This neck area swells with hard knots under the jaw until it looks like the baby dog will strangle—hence the name.
Puppy pyoderma is characterized by pustules on the face, and painful swelling of the lips, eyelids, and face. This may also include swellings in the groin area, where the lymph glands are located. Infected neck lymph nodes often become abscessed, break open and drain.
Signs of puppy strangles go beyond the facial sores. Puppies develop a fever, become lethargic, and stop eating, which can lead to low blood sugar that complicates the condition.
While puppy strangles generally aren’t life-threatening, they do need immediate veterinary care. The draining sores on the face must be diagnosed as pyoderma, as opposed to juvenile demodectic mange that looks similar. Treatment for puppy strangles such as steroids to relieve the inflammation could actually make the demodectic mange worse.
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the condition, ask for tips on how to help your puppy heal. Some home treatment can relieve the discomfort, too.
Apply hot packs to the sore face two or three times a day. Rinse a washcloth with water as hot as you can stand, wring out the excess, and hold against the pup’s swollen throat. Moist heat brings blood circulation to the area to help heal the wound more quickly and clean out the infection. Apply moist heat five minutes on, five minutes off, until the cloth has cooled, and then reapply.
The sores that develop on the puppy’s face usually burst and then crust over. That’s quite uncomfortable as well as unsightly and you can help your puppy feel better by keeping these areas clean. Soak with warm water at least once a day to soften the crusties, and then gently wipe them off. Follow up by washing the area with a 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide cleanser that helps heal the sores.
For the lymph nodes that have abscessed, clean the spots three to four times a day with warm water on a cloth applied for five to 10 minutes at a time. As with any abscess, these spots will be very tender, so be gentle. Rough cleaning also could increase the chance that the area will scar.
Your vet may need to lance abscesses that have not opened on their own. Flushing out the deep wound can be accomplished using a syringe (without the needle) or even a turkey baster or squirt gun filled with an antiseptic solution like diluted Betadine. Once it’s cleaned out, you can keep it clean with the repeated use of the diluted Betadine or warmed Burrow’s Solution, an astringent solution you can get at the drugstore.
Cleanliness alone won’t cure puppy strangles. Typically, several weeks of antibiotics from your vet will be needed to resolve any deep infection and prevent secondary bacterial infections in the draining wounds. Your vet may also prescribe steroids to reduce the inflammation. It is helpful to learn tips on how to administer pills or other treatments to your puppy.