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Common Health Problems to Watch for in Puppies

Puppies have weaker immune systems than adult dogs. Combine that with a natural sense of curiosity and it’s not hard to understand why puppies are more susceptible to a range of health conditions.


Writer Animalia Team


You do it all for your puppy. You feed them a balanced diet, find time for plenty of fun, and enjoy a strong relationship with your vet. Despite your best efforts, however, it’s hard to avoid every potential mishap. 

Puppies have weaker immune systems than adult dogs. Combine that with a natural sense of curiosity and it’s not hard to understand why puppies are susceptible to a range of health conditions. Knowing the signs and symptoms of common concerns and taking a proactive, thoughtful approach to dog ownership can help you manage minor and severe health problems alike. 


Parvovirus, or Parvo, is spread through bodily secretions and attacks the stomach and small intestines of infected animals. The disease is highly contagious and can be fatal. Puppies are most at risk between the ages of six weeks and six months, especially before they are vaccinated. Your puppy may develop Parvo through direct contact with an infected dog, by licking a contaminated object such as a leash or toy, or by sniffing (and even eating) infected feces.

  • Symptoms: Fever and lethargy followed by vomiting and bloody diarrhea. If left untreated, puppies will become dehydrated, weak, and lethargic.
  • Treatment: Immediate treatment is essential to prevent fatal sepsis. This involves hospitalization, IV fluids, and antibiotics.
  • Recovery time: Three days to a week.
  • Prevention: Keep your puppy away from unvaccinated dogs and public places until they are fully vaccinated. Vaccinate them at six to eight weeks and then every three weeks until the puppy is four months old. 


Like Parvo, Distemper is a very contagious illness that can often be fatal. It is caused by a paramyxovirus that is related to measles and rinderpest. It affects multiple organs, making it a challenge to treat and cure. DIstemper’s early symptoms are similar to a common respiratory infection. As a result, it is sometimes misdiagnosed, leading puppies to forgo treatment until the disease has progressed. Distemper is caught through direct contact with an infected object or animal or through airborne exposure. It can even be passed to a puppy via its mother’s placenta. Puppies are most at risk of infection during their first four months.

  • Symptoms: Sneezing and a watery eye discharge followed by fever, nasal discharge, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea. Infected puppies will stop eating and appear depressed. Encephalopathy can develop quickly. This presents with head tilting, walking in circles, seizures, and paralysis
  • Treatment: There is no cure for Distemper, but prompt medical intervention is essential to treat individual symptoms. Survival depends on the strength of both the virus and the dog’s immune system
  • Recovery time: Approximately ten days, although Distemper can lie dormant in a dog’s body and reappear later in life. Recurring Distemper is almost always fatal.
  • Prevention: Two vaccinations at around six and ten weeks provide full immunity.
sick puppy

Kennel Cough 

Kennel Cough has nothing to do with “kennels” and you might hear your vet refer to it as Bordetella or Infectious Tracheobronchitis caused by either an airborne bacterium or the canine parainfluenza virus. It is highly contagious and usually transmitted where dogs congregate such as boarding kennels, dog shows, or obedience classes.

  • Symptoms: Lethargy and loss of appetite followed by fever, runny nose, and a distinctive “honking” cough. Kennel Cough can turn into pneumonia
  • Treatment: Mild cases require a few days of rest away from other dogs and plenty of fluids. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics and cough medicine.
  • Recovery time: 10 to 14 days
  • Prevention: Vaccination at six to eight weeks and then annually


Influenza or dog flu is very common, but it rarely causes severe illness or death. The infection is caused by the airborne Influenza A virus (H3N8 or H3N2) and is spread among dogs through coughing, sneezing, and barking.

  • Symptoms: A dry or moist cough accompanied by nasal discharge, runny eyes, sneezing, fever, lethargy. Breathing difficulties may appear in severe cases.
  • Treatment: Consult your vet early to rule out more serious illnesses such as Parvo. Flu is treated with rest and plenty of fluids.
  • Recovery time: Seven days to three weeks
  • Prevention: Vaccination against common flu strains
There are around 850 species of ticks, 90 of them can be found across the United States.


Parasites are not only unpleasant and uncomfortable for your puppy, but they can also cause more serious diseases and even spread to you and your family. A parasitic infestation in the home is difficult to get rid of. Prevention, however, is easy. Puppies catch parasites from other animals while intestinal worms can be picked up from contaminated soil or feces. Puppies can also catch roundworms from their mother’s milk in the first few days of life. As parasites such as worms (whipworms, hookworms, and tapeworms) often appear in a stool examination, your vet may ask you to bring a fecal sample to check-ups.

  • Symptoms: General symptoms of topical infestation from pests such as fleas include itching,  scratching, constant licking, and chewing. This causes skin irritation and can lead to infection as well. Symptoms of intestinal infestation are diarrhea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, dehydration, blood in the stools, anal scratching, and a distinctive pot-bellied appearance.
  • Treatment: Treatments vary according to the parasite involved
  • Recovery time: Removing parasites is quick, but full recovery from symptoms may take weeks.
  • Prevention: Monthly topical treatments, careful observation, and a yearly program of worming tablets can all help prevent the various types of parasites.
Adult fleas drink more blood during the day than they need to survive. Excess blood is excreted as food for their larvae.


With the development of effective vaccinations, Adenovirus is rarely encountered these days. If caught and left untreated, however,  it can lead to Infectious Canine Hepatitis which is difficult to treat and can cause ongoing liver or kidney problems for your dog.

  • Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhea, and yellowing of the eyes
  • Treatment: Hospitalization, IV fluids, antibiotics, and a special diet to protect the liver and kidneys
  • Recovery time: Around two weeks, although the virus may remain localized in the kidneys for up to nine months
  • Prevention: A combined Adenovirus and Canine Distemper vaccine


Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease caught from swimming in or drinking contaminated water or through sniffing or drinking infected urine. It can lead to kidney and liver problems.

  • Symptoms: These mimic those of flu with vomiting, fever, and lethargy. A blood test is necessary for a definite diagnosis.
  • Treatment: Rest, fluids, and antibiotics
  • Recovery time: Up to four weeks
  • Prevention: Vaccination at 10 weeks followed by an additional shot three to four weeks later

Vomiting and diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea are sometimes symptoms of one of the health problems discussed above. They may also occur because your inquisitive puppy has eaten or drunk something it shouldn’t have. While a healthy adult dog can cope with a short bout of vomiting and diarrhea, these conditions can cause dehydration in a young puppy. Puppies who don’t recover after 12 hours of vomiting or 24 hours of diarrhea should see a vet.

  • Treatment: Remove food for a few hours but continue to offer water.

These are just a selection of the most common conditions that your puppy is susceptible to. With the right knowledge and a quality puppy health insurance plan, you can keep your pet healthy through their early years. Get a quote from Animalia today to learn more.


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