Andy Bowen, Josh Stilwell, Mason Romero, DVM , and Erica Bowen, DVM
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dog parent basics

5 common puppy illnesses to watch for

Know the signs and symptoms to look for during the early stages of your puppy’s life

Updated June 28, 2020

Created By

Andy Bowen,

The essentials

  • Puppies are more susceptible to illnesses. Because their immune systems aren’t fully developed, puppies face a higher risk of disease and illness.
  • Prevention is key. Immunizations are very important and effective to help your new pup avoid serious and potentially deadly illnesses.
  • Know the signs, and start treatment early. While general symptoms of distress may not mean anything incredibly serious, learn the warning signs that you need to take your pup to the vet ASAP.

5 common puppy illnesses to watch out for

Every normal puppy has spurts of incredible energy, followed by periods of exhaustion and everything in-between. That makes it difficult to know when your pup isn’t feeling right. Use this breakdown of common conditions to help identify symptoms and know when it’s time to call your vet.

The 5 most common puppy illnesses

symptoms, prevention, and treatment

Symptoms Prevention Treatment
Parvo (Parvovirus)
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite & weight loss
  • Low energy
Vaccination Hospitalization
Kennel Cough
  • Loud, persistent coughing
  • Low energy
  • Fever
Vaccines can help to greatly reduce the severity Medications and other treatment provided by a vet
Distemper
  • Pus-like discharge in the eyes
  • Fever
  • Coughing & a runny nose
  • Lack of energy & appetite
  • Low appetite
  • Vomiting
Vaccination There is no known treatment
Gastroenteritis
  • Vomiting w/ foamy bile
  • Diarrhea
  • Low appetite & energy
  • Weight loss
  • Slight fever
  • Tenderness in the stomach area
A low-fat, high-fiber diet with zero people food A specialized diet and probiotics prescribed by a vet
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
  • More accidents than normal / more frequent trips outside to potty
  • Urinating only small amounts at a time or straining to urinate
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Frequent Licking of the genitals
  • Fever
Drinking lots of water; being well-groomed around the genitals Medication and other treatments provided by a vet

Parvo (Parvovirus)

Parvo, technically referred to as “canine parvovirus, or CPV,” is an illness caused by a virus that is spread by contact with an infected dog or the poop or vomit of an infected dog. Parvo can be deadly, especially for young puppies without a fully developed immune system — dehydration is a serious concern. Thankfully, parvo has been dramatically reduced through early vaccination.

Signs and Symptoms

Dogs and puppies that have parvo will typically display the following symptoms:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • An abnormally high or low temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Low Energy

Prevention and Treatment

The most important treatment you can give your pup for parvo is prevention. Vaccinations have already helped to make the parvovirus rare, and keeping up with shots is the best thing you can do to prevent this serious virus from harming your furry friend.

If your dog is showing signs of parvo (especially fever and bloody diarrhea), it’s vital to contact your vet and get your pup tested. If diagnosed with parvo, hospitalization is likely necessary to keep your dog hydrated and prevent further infections and complications.

Kennel Cough

If you are planning on boarding your puppy while you go on vacation, you should be aware of the danger of kennel cough. This contagious sickness is most often contracted by dogs who are in close proximity to each other – hence the name “kennel cough.” According to the CDC, it is “considered one of the most prevalent infectious respiratory diseases in dogs worldwide,” and is spread via airborne droplets from other infected dogs.

Signs and Symptoms

The main symptom of kennel cough is just that – loud, persistent coughing. In the early stages, puppies are often lethargic and may have a fever and decreased appetite before developing the characteristic cough.

Prevention and Treatment

While kennel cough isn’t severely dangerous by itself, if left untreated, it can develop into pneumonia, which can be deadly for puppies. Be sure to take your dog to see the vet, who can prescribe any needed medication to make sure the cough runs its course without causing further issues.

While it doesn’t completely protect against kennel cough, vaccination can greatly reduce the length and symptoms of the kennel cough in dogs. Many boarding facilities require proof of vaccination to help prevent an outbreak.

Distemper

Canine distemper can be transmitted by infected dogs or by wildlife, including coyotes, raccoons, and other wild animals. Infected dogs are contagious for months, and mother dogs can pass it on to their puppies at birth.

Signs and Symptoms

The first sign of distemper is watery, pus-like discharge from the eyes. Further signs are:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • A runny nose
  • Lack of energy
  • Low appetite
  • Vomiting

Once distemper advances into later stages, it begins to attack the nervous system, and infected dogs may start “circling,” tilting and twitching their head and jaw, or even have seizures and paralysis.

Prevention and Treatment

Since this disease is often fatal, and even those dogs that survive can face permanent nervous system damages, prevention in the form of vaccination is key. Since there are currently no known medications to help, treatment is focused on preventing further infections and making sure dehydration doesn’t become a factor.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation or irritation in the intestines or stomach in dogs. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including a virus, a bacterial infection, parasites, or a number of other factors.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of gastroenteritis in puppies include:

  • Vomiting (look out for foamy bile in the vomit)
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low energy
  • Weight loss
  • Slight fever
  • Tenderness in the stomach area

Prevention and Treatment

The treatment your vet prescribes for gastroenteritis depends on the underlying cause, but you may need to withhold food for a period of time to let your pup’s digestive system recover. Restricted diets and medications (including probiotics) may be used to help your dog recover.

Since the vomiting and diarrhea associated with gastroenteritis can lead to dehydration, it’s important to make sure your pup is drinking plenty of water. If dehydration becomes a concern, your vet may need to provide fluids via an IV.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are fairly common, affecting about 14% of all dogs, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. Also noted in that study, is a growing concern that the bacteria that cause the infection are becoming resistant to common antibiotics. Thankfully, not all UTIs are serious or cause significant distress.

Signs and Symptoms

UTIs can be harder to detect in puppies who aren’t fully housetrained, but if you notice your furry friend starts to have a lot more accidents in the house or requests frequent trips outside to pee, then a UTI may be the cause. Other signs to look out for include bloody or cloudy urine, frequent licking of the genitals, and a fever.

Prevention and Treatment

As mentioned, not all UTIs are serious medical conditions that need to be treated. However, if you are concerned that your pup has a UTI, your vet can advise on whether medication is needed.

To help treat and prevent a UTI at home, be sure your dog is drinking plenty of water, stays well-groomed around the genitals, and has ample opportunities to go potty.