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What Are the Puppy Strangles?

By Colleen Williams and medically reviewed by Sarah Wallace DVM
published: January 12, 2018 - updated: January 18, 2023 • 3 min. read
Golden Retriever

Key Takeaways

  • Puppy strangles is a rare immune disorder called Juvenile Cellulitis.
  • This skin condition affects puppies between 3-6 months old.
  • It is most common among golden retrievers, dachshunds, and Gordon setters.
  • Puppy Strangles affects the face, muzzle, eyelids, and inner ear flaps.
  • Various treatment options are available and may be covered by pet insurance.

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 six months in age. The face, muzzle, eyelids and inner ear flaps are the most common sites to be affected. Puppy Strangles is most seen in golden retrievers, dachshunds, and Gordon setters. The cause isn’t completely known, but vets think it might be an auto-immune condition.

Signs of puppy strangles

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. The condition then spreads to the lymph nodes around the throat which become swollen. Then, the swelling areas develop pimples that burst and then crust. The condition can spread to other areas of the body as well, and in about 25% of puppies affected, there can be lethargy, fever or swollen joints. Generally, the condition resolves in 10-14 days and does not reoccur. Rarely, a puppy with a severe case of puppy strangles can be at risk of death.

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.”

Protect your pet


If a veterinarian suspects juvenile cellulitis, they can perform a biopsy. However symptoms can be inconclusive, and lesions don’t always 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.

Golden Retriever Zeek
If you notice any of the clinical signs mentioned above, talk to a veterinary telehealth team, or bring your pet into your veterinarian to find out if puppy strangles is affecting your puppy. Other conditions such as mange may look similar and some diagnostics are needed to find out what is going on. In rare cases, puppy strangles must be treated for a lengthy amount of time with treatments like antibiotics and further prescriptions. If you suspect your puppy has the disease, talk to your veterinarian 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.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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Sarah Wallace DVM profile photo
By Sarah Wallace DVM

Dr. Sarah Wallace is the vice president of telehealth at Galaxy Vets, based in Fort Collins, Colo. She is actively working to increase access to veterinary care, to develop more effective communication strategies to bridge the gap between veterinarian knowledge and pet parent understanding and build happy and sustainable veterinary teams. Dr. Wallace studied biology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and attended veterinary school at Western University of Health Sciences in California. After graduation, Dr. Wallace started working with Just Food for Dogs, an innovative pet food startup out of southern California advocating fresh, whole-food diets for dogs. She also completed a small animal rotating internship at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists - receiving one-on-one training with San Francisco's top veterinarians in internal medicine, neurology, dermatology, oncology and surgery. After working in clinical practice, Dr. Wallace joined the field of telehealth. Dr. Wallace writes and reviews blog content for Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. Dr. Sarah Wallace on LinkedIn Cardinal Veterinary Works Consulting

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