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Raising a new puppy is exciting, but it can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to keeping our puppies healthy and safe. If you’re worried about keeping your dog healthy, Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer, says that prevention is the best cure. “Proper vaccination and parasite eradication, as well as good nutrition, should help to give your puppy the best chance to avoid these most common and severe illnesses,” Klein says.

While vaccinations and proper nutrition are critical, it’s still important to know the signs of common puppy illnesses so you’re able to respond appropriately if your dog ever shows symptoms. To help you navigate these illnesses, we talked to Dr. Klein about the most common puppy illnesses, including treatment, prevention, and common symptoms.

Parvovirus (Parvo)

Parvovirus is a highly contagious and common disease that can be deadly. If you have a puppy or are planning to get a puppy, you should know about the symptoms of Parvo and how to treat it.

What is it?: This disease affects the stomach and small intestines. It spreads through direct contact with an infected dog, or through indirect contact with a contaminated object. Your puppy can be exposed to this disease by sniffing, licking, or consuming infected feces. Your dog can also be exposed if they encounter a contaminated object like a leash or toy.

Puppies between six weeks and six months are most likely to get parvo. However, if you follow your vet’s vaccination protocol, puppies are vaccinated against the virus at 6, 8, 12, and up to 16-20 weeks with yearly boosters.

Symptoms: If your dog has parvo, they’re likely very sick. Typical symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, weakness, dehydration, and depression.

Treatment: While there is no cure for parvo, vets will offer supportive care and treatment for symptoms. This virus is potentially fatal, but most dogs who survive the first three-to-four days are likely to make a complete recovery. Dr. Klein notes that it usually takes one week for puppies to recover.

Prevention: Make sure your puppy gets the full parvo vaccine, and only socializes with fully vaccinated adult dogs in a private environment. Avoid public places until your dog is vaccinated.

Beagle puppy in a woman's lap.
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Kennel Cough

Kennel Cough is a highly contagious disease that’s typically contracted at places with a lot of dogs, such as boarding facilities, daycares, dog parks, training groups, and dog shows.

What is it?: Also known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, Kennel Cough is a respiratory disease that’s very contagious. Like human coughs, this disease is spread through airborne droplets, direct contact, or contaminated surfaces.

Symptoms: The most obvious symptom of kennel cough is a strong cough that may sound like “honking.” Other symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, lethargy, loss of appetite, and low fever.

Treatment: For mild cases, a couple weeks of rest is recommended. However, for more intense cases, a veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic and cough medicine. Dr. Klein says that recovery time is around seven to 14 days.

Prevention: A vaccine is available, and many training, boarding, and daycare facilities require proof of vaccination.


Another common illness in puppies is the dog flu. Most cases aren’t fatal, but it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms.

What is it?: The dog flu (also known as canine influenza virus) is a respiratory disease that’s caused by an influenza A virus — either H3N8 or H3N2. Like human flus, the dog flu is spread by airborne droplets through coughing, barking, and sneezing.

Symptoms: Typical symptoms of the dog flu include coughing (both moist and dry), sneezing, nasal discharge, runny eyes, fever, lethargy, and difficulty breathing.

Treatment: If you notice any of the above symptoms, make sure to see your veterinarian. While there is currently no cure for the dog flu, your veterinarian will likely offer supportive treatment to help with symptoms. Your vet will also provide appropriate quarantine restrictions to prevent the further spread of the disease.

If you think your dog may have the flu, call your vet ahead of time, because your vet may ask your dog to wait outside to reduce the chance of spread. Most dogs recover between seven to 21 days.

Prevention: Vaccines are available for both the H3N8 and H3N2 strains of the flu. Another way to prevent your dog from getting the disease is to avoid public places or kennels that have had recent cases.

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If you have a dog, you’ve likely heard of distemper. It’s one of the most serious, fatal, and contagious diseases your dog can get. Thankfully, it’s preventable.

“Distemper is very serious and its signs can be respiratory, gastrointestinal, and in severe (and often fatal cases),” said Dr. Klein.

What is it?: A paramyxovirus causes distemper. It is related to measles and rinderpest viruses. The disease causes illness in multiple body systems, making it hard to treat. Dogs can get the illness through direct contact with an infected animal or object, airborne exposure, and the placenta. All dogs are at risk for distemper, but especially unvaccinated dogs and puppies under four months old.

Symptoms: Dogs with distemper experience an array of symptoms, and there are usually two stages of symptoms. During the first stage, dogs experience fever, clear nasal discharge, purulent eye discharge, lethargy, anorexia, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

As the disease progresses, it attacks the central nervous system, and symptoms may include head tilt, circling, partial or full paralysis, seizures, nystagmus, muscle twitching, convulsions, and death.

Treatment: There is no cure, but vets can offer supportive care for symptoms. Most vets will recommend hospitalizing and separating the dog from others to prevent spread. The survival rate depends on the strain of the virus and the dog’s immune symptoms. While some cases resolve in 10 days, some dogs will have symptoms for months.

Prevention: Get your dog the full series of distemper vaccinations, and avoid any gaps in vaccinations. Only socialize your puppy with other fully vaccinated dogs.


Every pet owner should be on the lookout for general warning signs that your dog may have a parasite such as worms.

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What is it?: Dogs can pick up parasites in a range of ways. Worms may be picked up from another dog’s stool and contaminated soil. Other dogs can also carry the parasites and give them to your pup.

Symptoms: Each parasite affects dogs differently. However, some general symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight loss, vomiting, poor coat appearance, pot-bellied appearance, lethargy, dehydration, deficiencies in nutrition and anemia, intestinal blockage or pneumonia, and blood in stool.

Treatment: After diagnosing a dog with a parasite, vets typically recommend deworming medications and preventative medication.

Prevention: Veterinarians recommend yearly testing and year-round administration of prevention medication.

If you’re in search of a new pet pharmacy, look no further than AKCRx! Find your prescription and over-the-counter medication brands for dogs, cats, horses, and livestock. AKCRx knows pet meds like AKC knows dog breeds. Shop with the dog breed experts today!

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Puppys First Vet Visit: How to Reduce Vet Anxiety
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