Common Puppy Illnesses

| AKC Pet Insurance

Protect your pup from sickness and infection with our guide to common puppy illnesses. Follow simple rules for disease prevention to stay healthy!

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Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time, but it’s not all hugs and treats. While showering them with affection and showing them off to friends, keep in mind that your new pet is susceptible to various common health conditions. Like many childhood ailments, most common puppy illnesses are easily avoidable if you follow a few simple rules. Addressing other problems will depend on your ability to spot warning signs and take the right preventive measures. 

Do you have a sick puppy on your hands? Check out our guide to common puppy diseases below and consult your veterinarian if you recognize any symptoms.

Canine Distemper

Your veterinarian will likely administer several Distemper vaccinations throughout your puppy’s first 6 months. These vaccinations are highly recommended.

Dr. Jim Dobies, a North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association member, notes that Distemper “can be a really ugly disease.” Though initial symptoms resemble respiratory illnesses like the common cold, sneezing and runny eyes can evolve into pneumonia and permanent brain damage. 

Many dog owners mistakenly disregard these mild, early symptoms. As a result, dogs often suffer from high fevers and seizures by the time they reach a vet. Treatment can take weeks and typically requires inpatient services. Distemper can remain dormant in the bodies of dogs who survive it. It is far more dangerous when it strikes again later in life, often resulting in severe neurological symptoms.

Parvovirus (Parvo)

Parvovirus (parvo, for short) is another common and highly contagious disease that affects young dogs. Fortunately, it’s also easily prevented with a series of puppy vaccines. The shots typically start at 6 to 8 weeks and continue for several months. Your veterinarian will help you determine your dog's appropriate wellness exam schedule. 

Symptoms of parvo include fever, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Puppies are extremely contagious (to both dogs and humans) once they begin exhibiting symptoms. Emergency veterinarians can usually ease symptoms with intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and antibiotics to stave off infection.

Kennel Cough or Bordetella

The term “kennel cough” is the popular name for canine infectious respiratory disease, a condition caused by exposure to several common viruses and bacteria. Veterinarians can vaccinate your dog against kennel cough during their early office visits. In addition to kennels, dogs often catch and spread infection in other highly populated areas like parks and training groups. The disease is spread through airborne droplets.

Symptoms should look and sound familiar to pet owners who’ve had a cold or the flu. Lethargy, sneezing, and a dry honking cough indicate a potential infection. While contagious pets should be separated from other dogs, mild cases are typically easy to treat with fluids and rest. However, veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics or other medications to ensure severe cases do not turn into pneumonia.

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Intestinal parasites are another common puppy illness. Parasites cause itching, redness, and unpleasant skin issues, so an infected animal must see a vet immediately. Your vet will recommend preventive treatments, since an insect-borne disease can be a serious health risk for puppies and adult dogs.

Symptoms include constant licking and chewing of the paws or any body part. In addition, your dog’s skin will appear red, and patches of hair may be missing. Parasites often appear on a fecal exam, so your vet will ask you to collect a sample prior to examination.


A large percentage of puppies are born with roundworms they receive from their mother’s milk. Your dog will butt scoot and experience weight loss and fatigue, but the best way to confirm your dog has worms is a visual identification in their poop.

Other worms to watch out for include whipworms (hard to diagnose and often lead to chronic weight loss), hookworms (cause anemia and bloody diarrhea), and tapeworms.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Any puppy experiencing abdominal pain, weight loss, or loss of appetite is sick. Pet owners may disregard symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting, which are common with some adult dogs, but they can be a veterinary medical emergency for puppies. Offering water is fine, but after 12 hours of vomiting, dog owners need to schedule an appointment with their vet. Also, a puppy needs to see the vet after 24 hours of supportive care to manage diarrhea.

When a puppy experiences abdominal pain, other signs of illness typically include an abnormal temperature, restlessness, lethargy, change in eating habits, and excessive panting. Unvaccinated dogs will be vulnerable to canine distemper, parvo, and kennel cough. These illnesses can be deadly if the dog’s immune system is compromised or the puppy is very young.

Pet Insurance for Puppies

It's important to schedule a first wellness exam with your veterinarian shortly after bringing your puppy home to ensure they’re in good shape from the start! Enrolling your puppy in a pet insurance policy when they’re young is another great way to prepare for the unexpected.

AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) offers Wellness Coverage as an optional add-on to their base Accident & Illness plan*, providing coverage for eligible exams, preventive medication, and vaccinations that are vital to every puppy's health and well-being.

*Available at an additional cost.

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