Recently, we had an owner that had just gotten a puppy from the shelter. His face and head were all bumpy with oozing and crusty areas. The shelter worker told her that although it looked terrible, he was already on antibiotics and should be completely normal after a few weeks. He called it “puppy warts”. The puppy seems playful and he is eating, but his face just looks bad. The owner was concerned about what she had gotten herself in to with this dog.
We diagnosed this puppy has what we used to call “puppy strangles”, although the formal term for it is “juvenile cellulitis”. It’s a skin condition that we see in young puppies between about 1-4 months old. It is a nodular, pustular skin disorder of the face and ears. It can also cause the salivary lymph nodes to become enlarged as they fight the infection, sometimes so large that it seems like they might strangle the puppy-thus the name. These puppies sometimes look like they have “mumps”.
We rarely see strangles in older dogs.
What Is The Cause?
The cause is unknown, but there is likely an immune system abnormality. In other words, the puppy’s immune system is acting excessively and inappropriately to the staph bacteria on his own skin.
There is also probably a genetic component since some breeds seem to be prone to it; Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Huskies, Gordon Setters seem to be predisposed.
What Are The Symptoms?
Puppies with strangles have a swollen face-especially around the eyelids, lips, and muzzle. Their lymph nodes are enlarged. Their skin will ooze with pus and sometimes fistulas (draining tracts) develop. The skin is tender over their face.
It is not an itchy condition, but it tends to be painful.
Sometimes all of the inflammation causes a fever, in which case the puppy will be lethargic. Often times these puppies are just as active and energetic as any other puppy.
What Is The Treatment?
Antibiotics are prescribed to treat the staph infection, but antibiotics alone will not always cure this condition. The puppy may also need corticosteroids like prednisone as this condition appears to be an immune-mediated disease. Once suppression of the overly active immune system occurs, improvement is usually rapid.
Because the treatment involves suppression of the immune system, it’s best to rule out conditions that look similar as immune suppression would be inappropriate for treatment. Generalized demodectic mange, an infection beginning with mange mites, also has a facial orientation and can look similar to juvenile cellulitis. Skin scrapes can check for mites.
The condition generally resolves in 10 to 14 days and does not recur.
If treatment is delayed, permanent hair loss can result in the most severely affected areas. If the puppy is sick enough, the condition can be life-threatening.