The 7 Most Common Puppy Illnesses (Signs & Symptoms)

Puppy Illness -

Pet owners typically know their pets best, and they can quickly pick up on any signs or symptoms of illness. However, it is more difficult to spot in young puppies. They suffer in silence because they can’t tell their owners that they are in pain. There are several puppy illnesses that are common in puppies and can have devastating consequences if left untreated.

Fortunately, new puppy owners can learn about puppy health and common puppy illnesses and their symptoms. With the guidance and support of a DVM, dog owners can ensure their pups receive the necessary vaccinations and learn about the red flags to look out for. Puppies require time to build a strong immune system. Therefore, it is wise to avoid dog parks, and even sidewalks for the first three months, or until after the pup is fully vaccinated.

Here we will look at the seven most common puppy illnesses and their symptoms.

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1. Parvovirus

Parvovirus, commonly called parvo, is an extremely infectious, deadly viral disease. It is typically seen in puppies but could affect dogs up to about 3 years old. The disease usually attacks either the gastric lining or the heart of the pup, preventing it from absorbing nutrients. Parvo transmission occurs through direct contact with an infected dog. Furthermore, it can infect a puppy who comes into contact with the urine, feces, or other bodily secretions of an infected animal.

There is no cure for parvo, so without prompt diagnosis and treatment, fatality rates are very high. Fortunately, getting the puppy vaccinated can avoid parvovirus. Furthermore, if the puppy’s mom was vaccinated against parvovirus, she can pass on some of her protection against this disease to her babies through her milk.

Symptoms of parvovirus include:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy/weakness

If you notice any of these symptoms, ensure the puppy remains hydrated and get it to the vet as soon as possible. Since it is a virus, there is no known cure. All puppies infected with this virus require hospitalization. Treatment for canine parvovirus typically includes medications and therapies to strengthen the pup’s immune system to better fight the virus.

2. Kennel Cough

The name Kennel Cough is misleading because it is not only dogs in kennels that can contract this highly contagious disease. The name comes from the prevalence of dog contracting the disease in places where there are many dogs in one space, like dog shelters, doggy daycares, boarding facilities, dog parks, and more.

Canine parainfluenza may be a better term to use. It is a virus that causes respiratory disease in dogs of any age; however, puppies are more vulnerable because their immune systems are still developing. The Bordetella bacterium causes this disease, also referred to as canine infectious tracheobronchitis.

The virus spreads through direct contact with infected saliva, mucus, or other respiratory secretions. For example, saliva droplets in the air from coughing, or noses touching. The virus can also spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as food bowls, or toys.

Treatment typically involves a course of antibiotics to help clear the infection, with supplemental supportive care such as increased fluid intake and plenty of rest. Although canine parainfluenza is a serious illness, most puppies will recover with a proper treatment regimen within 10 to 14 days.

In severe cases, the virus can lead to pneumonia and even death. However, prevention is always the best option, so prevent puppy illnesses by keeping your puppy up-to-date on its vaccinations.

Symptoms of Kennel Cough include:

  • Infected pets may experience a runny nose
  • A persistent severe, dry, honking cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite

Fortunately, animals can start to be vaccinated against kennel cough as early as six to eight weeks of age which can ensure that your puppy is adequately protected.

3. Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a virus that causes symptoms that are very similar to a human cold. It is also transmitted in the same way, through direct contact or airborne exposure. Carried by unvaccinated dogs and raccoons, distemper can cause nerve damage or weight loss and is dangerous without treatment.

Because it is viral, there isn’t a drug available that can treat canine distemper. This means that veterinary care comprises medications and treatments that will help your puppy to gain strength and build up its immune response to the disease. Without treatment, distemper can be fatal. However, even if your puppy recovers, there is a chance that the disease can return in later life.

According to the American Veterinary However, dogs don’t get colds so if you notice that your puppy has any of the following symptoms, they have may canine distemper:

The symptoms of distemper appear in two stages.

First Stage:

  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite or not eating altogether
  • Fever
  • Nose and eye discharge

Second stage of progression:

  • Neurological problems
  • Your dog’s head may tilt
  • Seizures or convulsions.

For this reason, vaccinations against distemper are strongly recommended. Although the Distemper vaccine won’t prevent Canine Distemper entirely, it will significantly reduce the severity of the disease.

4. Heartworm Disease

As the name of this puppy illness indicates, it is, in fact, a worm that lives in the heart and arteries of infected animals. Heartworm is an illness transmitted from one animal to another by a third party—the mosquito. Quite disturbingly, these parasites travel through the bloodstream, damaging arteries and organs. Although there are several forms of internal parasites that could infect dogs, heartworms are the most dangerous.

Mosquitos carry immature heartworms from one dog to another, and once your puppy is bitten, the worms settle in the blood vessels. From there they travel via the bloodstream to spread all the way to the lungs and heart within six months after infection. Here they mature into adults, each up to a foot long and capable of reproducing.

As their numbers grow, they begin to block blood flow, causing damage to your dog’s organs and putting them at risk of lung disease and heart failure. Left untreated, they are nearly always fatal. However, this condition, thankfully, is easily preventable with inexpensive medication, but if left untreated can be fatal. Screening for heartworm should be done on an annual basis through blood testing.

It takes up to six months for a dog to develop symptoms of a heartworm infestation after being bitten. However, contact your vet at the first signs of illness.

Heartworm Symptoms typically include the following; however, in some cases, dogs show no symptoms at all.

  • A soft, dry cough
  • Fatigue
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting

Heartworm prevention is recommended by all veterinarians and this is available in several forms, including oral medication and injection. Most heartworm preventatives are only available on prescription. Your vet will be happy to advise you further if your pooch has any puppy illness.

5. Internal Parasites

Although not as life-threatening as heartworms, puppies are particularly prone to picking up other internal parasites. These include roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Parasites, such as worms are big reasons dog owners most pick up their dog’s poop. Dogs can contract parasites if they come into contact with another dog’s feces. Puppies can also pick them up if they are near other infected animals, including other dogs. The worms live inside the puppy’s intestinal tract, but because all parasites are different, the symptoms will differ.

The worms can cause one or more of a range of unpleasant symptoms of puppy illness, including:

  • Unhealthy-looking coat
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Weight loss despite a good appetite
  • Loss of appetite  
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pot-belly appearance (Swollen abdomen)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • You might even see visible worms in your puppy’s poop

Although there is no vaccination against these intestinal parasites, there are medications that can keep your puppy worm-free. Ensure your pet’s health by regular visits to your vet, who will tell you about protecting your pup against worms. Follow a regular deworming schedule for your puppy. Consider a monthly preventative for consistent protection and treatment.

6. Gastric Torsion (Bloat)

There are two kinds of bloat in dogs: gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) and simple bloat. Some forms of simple bloat, known as dilatation, develop slowly and resolve on their own. However, GDV—Gastric dilatation-volvulus, is one of the life-threatening puppy illnesses that can be fatal to dogs in less than a few hours. Although larger breeds are most susceptible to bloat, young puppies of larger breeds can still develop this immune system condition.

Bloat occurs when a large amount of air is ingested into your pup’s stomach, typically in dogs that gulp their food down. When this air cannot be expelled through vomiting or burping, the ends of the puppy’s stomach begin to twist. The contents of the stomach then begin to ferment and part or all of the stomach may die.

Bloat needs to be addressed quickly in dogs. Early diagnosis and surgery will give your puppy a 90% or higher survival rate. However, if the stomach has already twisted and begun to die, that number is closer to 50%. It is crucial to have the problem treated immediately. You can prevent bloat by slowing down your puppy’s eating and making sure it has plenty of time to rest before and after a meal.

Symptoms are sudden but noticeable:

  • Retching and the inability to vomit
  • Enlarged stomach area that seems painful
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive drooling

Bloat can affect any dog at any age. Broad-chested large breed dogs of any age are most susceptible to GDV, including Great Danes, Boxers, German Shepherds, Bloodhounds, Labrador Retrievers, and Weimaraners. Only a few smaller broad-chested breeds are at risk, including dachshunds and basset hounds. The best thing to do is to reach out to a pet care facility immediately at the first signs of health problems or puppy illness.

7. Leptospirosis

While Leptospirosis is a more common puppy illness in tropical climates, the disease can occur anywhere where your puppy can come into contact with contaminated water. It is a bacterial infection that can affect your puppy’s kidneys and the liver and is transmitted through contaminated water and infected urine.

Treatment typically involves a course of antibiotics and aggressive supportive care. The recovery time will depend on the severity of the infection and the time it took for the start of treatment. In severe cases, the disease can lead to kidney failure and death.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis are flu-like and include the following:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms are not immediately evident and could be vague, to begin with. Your puppy can be vaccinated against leptospirosis at 10 to 12 weeks, then again at 13 to 15 weeks. Be aware that not all clinics vaccinate for leptospirosis, so ask your veterinarian if it’s appropriate for your puppy.

Armed with this information about the most common puppy illnesses, your chances of raising a healthy strong puppy are excellent. One big thing you can do to ensure your puppy’s well-being is to reach out to your DVM from the start. You can avoid the stress of having a sick puppy by ensuring your precious pooch receives all the necessary puppy vaccines and health checks.

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Mari Serfontein