Our Bella has been a very sick puppy this week. Right on the heels of recovering from a nasty bout of Kennel Cough, she developed an autoimmune disease called juvenile cellulitis…or, as it is commonly known, puppy strangles.
I’ve read more about this condition than I care to recount. I am glad I have a sharp veterinarian who diagnosed her illness quickly because without treatment it can be fatal.
How It Began
At first I thought Bella had been bitten or stung by an insect or a snake. On Thursday of last week she had what looked like styes on her lower eyelids. The area around her eyes was red and inflamed. I scheduled an appointment for Friday morning at the vet thinking she may have contracted an eye infection, a bug bite, or an allergy to the antibiotics she was taking for the kennel cough.
By Thursday evening, one of the lymph nodes in her throat swelled up almost to the size of an egg! She began pacing and crying and was obviously in pain. Friday morning my heart froze up when I saw the blood coming out of her eyes. By this time she also had developed bloody lesions on her mouth, her snout, and her privates, and her ears were bright red and inflamed.
The vet took a skin scraping to rule out mites and then diagnosed her with Puppy Strangles and put her on a regimen of steroids to suppress her immune system and yet another antibiotic to prevent infection arising on all the little blisters in her eyes, her ears, and her mouth.
With continued steroid treatment, she should make a full recovery…although unfortunately I’ve read online about dogs who took MONTHS to recover, and the prolonged steroid treatment led to other health problems. We tried reducing her dosage after two days, but her symptoms began coming back, so we had to go back to the original dosage. Even so, she still has a couple of blisters on her eyelids. She is lethargic and sleeps all day. (I know…a LAB puppy, lethargic?) She pants all the time, and I’m not sure if that’s a side effect of the steriods or if it’s another manifestation of the illness.
What IS it?
Nobody seems to know. Vets have ruled out bacterial infections and viral infections. Since the disease responds so well to steroids, the assumption is that somehow the puppy’s immune system goes haywire and begins attacking itself, sort of like Lupus, for dogs.
There are a few stories out there about dogs who never got better, even with treatment…but most of them do. Dogs that are not treated end up dying because their lymph nodes get so large in their necks that they are unable to breathe. Since she is already much better than she was last Friday when her eyes were bleeding and her lymph node the size of an egg (now about a walnut), I take that as a good sign that she’s going to be okay.
But still I pray for her. She is one of God’s creatures, too, and is a picture of His creativity. I pray for her restlessness to get better. She can’t tell me what hurts! But still she faithfully follows us around in between endless rounds of drinking gallons of water (the steriods make her very thirsty) and then going to the bathroom.
What puzzles me about her is that most dogs get this illness between 4 weeks and 4 months. Bella got it at 7 months old. My theory is that the kennel cough virus/bacteria made her immune system go haywire.
In the meantime I am adding another item to my list of gifts: prednisone. Without it, we would have probably already lost her.