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Caring For a Sick Puppy: 7 Common Illnesses

Written By
Reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM
7 min read

Updated - May 19th, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.

Think your puppy might be sick, but not 100% sure what’s going on?  We’ve all been there.

Whether you’re the proud pet parent of a brand new puppy or are a couple of months into your life together, it can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. With so much to check off your new puppy checklist, the last thing you want to worry about is your fragile little pup getting sick. 

But not to worry – we’re here to help. Thankfully, most of the common infectious puppy illnesses below have puppy vaccines or preventative medications you can use to protect your precious pooch ahead of time. In the unfortunate event that your puppy was already infected before you brought them home, or they’ve gotten infected even after you’ve taken all necessary precautions, it’s important to know when to take action. 

Remember, it’s important to find a veterinarian you trust and enroll in pet insurance right from the start to help with any unexpected accidents or illnesses.

7 common signs and symptoms of a sick puppy 

When you have a sick puppy, you’ll want to take note of their symptoms. Not only is this important for figuring out why they are sick, but it’s also especially important for telling your vet what your pup is experiencing.

Not sure if you should take your sick puppy into the vet’s office? When in doubt, just give them a call. They’ll probably want to see your puppy in person, but they can give you some helpful advice and may ask you important questions over the phone first. 

Here is a list of the most common infectious diseases in puppies and the corresponding signs of illness associated with each disease: .

1. Parvovirus (Parvo)

Parvovirus, also known as Parvo, is a common virus that typically affects young puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Most severe illness occurs in dogs 6-24 weeks of age. Parvo can also affect adult dogs and senior dogs if they’re not vaccinated,  however, this is less common. 

Parvo attacks rapidly dividing cells in the body. This means that your dog’s intestinal tract and bone marrow are affected the most, and symptoms are usually related to problems with the gastrointestinal tract, dehydration, and suppression of the immune system Dogs become infected with parvovirus when they accidentally ingest the virus. Parvovirus isn’t airborne, but it can be found on a lot of surfaces, and it’s spread through accidental ingestion of contaminated fecal material. The tricky part is that it’s not just found in solid pieces of poop, but on surfaces where the contaminated feces have touched – like the ground, shoes, kennels, or even on a dog’s fur and paws.

Signs: 

Warning signs of Parvovirus include lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea that is often bloody. In severe cases, sick puppies will collapse from dehydration and hypothermia. 

Solution:

The best thing to do is to prevent parvovirus through adequate vaccination against Parvovirus. If your puppy develops symptoms associated with parvovirus, seek immediate veterinary attention, as this virus is almost 100% fatal without treatment.

2. Distemper

Distemper affects the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, eyes, and nervous system. It can also develop into pneumonia, or lead to neurological problems associated with brain damage. 

Signs: 

Common symptoms of Distemper are sneezing, eye discharge, upper respiratory issues, loss of appetite, low energy, and fever. It’s often mistaken for a cold until it gets much worse. 

Solution:

If not prevented with vaccinations ahead of time, your puppy may need to be hospitalized. It usually takes weeks to fully recover from distemper, along with medications to continue at home. Be aware that this disease can become dormant and then arise later when your pup is older, and about 50% of puppies infected with distemper will die, which is why having your puppy vaccinated against distemper is important 

3. Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough is extremely contagious, and very common in places where there are lots of dogs all in one space, like dog shelters, doggy daycares, boarding facilities, dog parks, and more. The good news is that kennel cough is not fatal, dogs recover well with treatment, and there is a vaccination that can help reduce symptoms.

Kennel Cough is a respiratory disease caused by multiple bacterial and viral pathogens  that is spread through “airborne droplets, direct contact (e.g., touching noses), or contaminated surfaces (including water/food bowls).” It is easily treated, but can cause  more severe coughing in puppies under six months of age and in  dogs who are immunocompromised. 

Signs: 

Kennel cough most commonly manifests as a dry, hacking, gagging, retching cough in otherwise healthy young dogs. Rarely, kennel cough can become complicated and cause pneumonia, which manifests as a softer, moist cough, fever, lethargy, and difficulty breathing.

Solution:

For mild cases of Kennel Cough, a sick puppy can easily recover from just a couple of weeks of rest. However, more severe cases will  need cough medicine and an antibiotic. It usually takes about 14 days for a puppy to recover, but this will vary by case. 

4. Adenovirus

Adenovirus causes upper respiratory tract infections and infectious canine hepatitis. Thankfully, this virus isn’t seen too often thanks to widespread puppy vaccinations. 

Signs: 

Common symptoms of Adenovirus are non-specific, and can include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and if it causes liver damage,  jaundice, which manifests as yellow skin, gums, and eyes.

Solution:

If your sick puppy contracts Adenovirus, they often require hospitalization for treatment, and there are often long-term health complications. A best practice is to avoid Adenovirus with proper vaccination.

5. Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection, often transmitted from infected wildlife through contaminated water and infected urine. It spreads throughout the bloodstream, affecting the kidneys and liver. Humans are also at risk for infection with leptospirosis. 

Signs: 

Common symptoms of leptospirosis are lethargy, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, increased drinking and urinating, muscle soreness, and rapid breathing. 

Solution:

If your sick puppy has contracted Leptospirosis, they may need to be hospitalized for treatment and antibiotics for up to four weeks or more. The good news is that you can get your puppy vaccinated to help prevent this disease when they are 10-12 weeks old, and then again when they are 13-15 weeks old. 

6. Influenza

Influenza is also known as the “dog flu.” It creates an acute respiratory infection that is transmitted through droplets from coughing, barking, and sneezing. Influenza can also spread through contaminated objects like food and water bowls, kennels, collars, and leashes. 

Canine influenza can even spread through people who have been in contact with an infected dog! Be sure to wash your hands and clothes before coming into contact with another dog to protect yourself and the pup.

Signs: 

Common symptoms of influenza in dogs are coughing, fever, and a runny nose. Because of this, it can easily be mistaken for Kennel Cough.

Solution:

There is not an exact cure for influenza, but veterinarians can offer supportive treatment to help with the symptoms. Your vet may give you quarantine instructions for your sick puppy – to avoid spreading the flu any further. If your puppy is at high risk for being exposed to canine influenza, such as show dogs, or dogs that frequently board or use doggie daycare, vaccination is available for both types of canine influenza (H3N2 and H5N5).

 7. Parasites 

Parasites – such as intestinal worms – can be picked up in many different ways like directly from another infected dog, from eating a dead animal, from another dog’s feces, or even from contaminated soil. 

Signs: 

Different intestinal parasites can show different symptoms, but some common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss despite a good appetite, unhealthy-looking coat, pot-belly appearance, lethargy, abdominal pain, coughing, or bloody stools. You may also see worms in the stool or vomit.

Solution:

Your veterinarian will typically give your sick puppy a deworming medication as well as a preventative medication. 

How do I keep my puppy healthy? 

While taking your puppy to their annual exam, getting their recommended vaccines and preventative medications is vital, true wellness is also about supporting their health and happiness in everyday life. From providing a healthy diet with nutritious dog food to getting plenty of exercise and mental stimulation with training, when it comes to taking care of your puppy, it’s good to think about the big picture.

The truth is, accidents and illnesses happen to even the most proactive and health-conscious pet parents – so don’t fret if you have a sick puppy! Your veterinarian is there to help. And if those vet bills are a little more expensive than you can handle – pet insurance can help reduce the cost. 

We know getting your puppy the best care possible is top of mind, that’s why Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans pay back 90% of eligible vet bills. Plus, if you have more than one fur baby, you can actually get 10% off your Pumpkin Pet  Insurance plans for each additional pet. Fetch your free quote today!

Victoria is a freelance copywriter for the dog industry and has two furbabies of her own. She is passionate about healthy dog care-taking, training, and helping dog parents through the ups and downs of pet parenting.
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM