Puppy perils: common puppy illnesses to look out for

December 10, 2021 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Mess dachshund puppy was left at home alone, started making a mess. Pet tore up furniture and chews home slipper of owner. Baby dog is sitting in the middle of chaos, gnawed clothes, looks piteously.

Puppies are full of bounce and always on the go. But all that energy and curiosity can lead to a vet visit. Out of all the dog claims we handled between November 2020 and November 2021, well over a quarter were for puppies under one.

The average puppy insurance claim costs $620, but some conditions are much more expensive.

In the last year, we’ve seen puppy claims in excess of $6200 each for spine, heart, lymph node, and even middle ear conditions.

And puppies are a lot more accident-prone than adult dogs. Accidents accounted for 22% of puppy claims but just 10% of claims for adult dogs.

That’s certainly been my own experience.

I’ve had two dogs since puppyhood, and both have endured a significant vet trip before their first birthday.

One of them, at just four months old, swallowed a huge fishhook on the beach, concealed in a lump of delicious, smelly bait.

We rushed to the vet with the neon fishing line still hanging from his mouth.

The second, a Cockapoo with remarkable jumping and climbing abilities, scrambled onto a high table and scarfed down six ibuprofen.

Luckily, I found the chewed-up packet and realized what had happened.

Both dogs had overnight stays at the out-of-hours vet, resulting in some pretty big vet bills. Both, I’m relieved to say, have made a full recovery.

I’ve learned some hard lessons about keeping mischievous pups out of trouble, but the claims data shows I’m not alone.

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The Most Common Puppy Accidents

These are the most common types of accident claims for puppies:

Surprise-surprise, foreign bodies (like fish hooks) and intoxication (including poisoning with painkillers) accounted for well over half of all puppy accidents.

A variety of cuts, bumps, and broken bones make up a large proportion of other incidents that land puppies at the vet.

The Most Common Puppy Accident Claims: Foreign Bodies

Puppies seem to get quite a curious range of objects stuck in a variety of body parts. Although 60% were simply claims for a "foreign body," over a quarter involved unspecified objects lodged in the digestive system, and nearly one in 10 were for grass seeds lodged in unspecified body parts.

Type of Foreign Body Claim Percentage of Claims
Foreign body, unspecified 60%
Foreign body in the stomach or digestive organs 26%
Grass seed 9%
Foreign body stuck in throat 1%
Foreign body in mouth 1%
Foreign body in eye 1%
Foreign body in ear 1%
Foreign body in nose 0.5%
Other 0.5%
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Grass seeds can do surprising damage to your poor pup if you don’t get them treated quickly. Vet Sophie Bell’s dog actually lost an eye because of one. Read her advice on avoiding grass seeds and what to do if your puppy does meet with the sharp end of one.

Most other foreign body incidents involved hapless pups getting things stuck somewhere in their faces, with claims spread fairly evenly across throats, mouths, eyes, ears, and noses.

Here’s a breakdown of foreign body claims that name a specific body part:

The average cost of a puppy accident claim is $700, but as my own experience shows, bills can run a lot higher if your poor pup needs overnight stays, stomach pumping, or even surgery.

Sometimes you can't stop your puppy from getting into a pickle. But some practical steps, like crate training could really help. Here are a few tips to keep them out of mischief—and the vet's office:

  • Keep human food out of reach

  • Lock up medications

  • Train your puppy to "leave it" on command

  • Use a puppy crate or pen when you're not supervising

  • Train your family to do all of the above

Poisoning is Very Common in Puppies

We all know how quickly puppies can get hold of and eat things, which is why poisoning is the second most common accident.

Although a large proportion of poisoning incidents don’t have a specific cause, there’s one big culprit here: raisins or grapes, which account for over a third of all puppy poisonings.

Chocolate, painkillers, and rat poison were also responsible for significant numbers of vet visits for pups.

“Some owners are completely unaware that grapes, raisins, and sultanas are toxic,” says Sophie. “There is no known toxic dose; ALL cases should be considered as having potential serious toxicity, even one grape.”

You should get your puppy to the vet right away if you think they’ve eaten raisins or grapes. “Never sit and wait, as it can take several days for symptoms to show, by which time your dog could be in acute renal failure," says Sophie.

“Your vet might take blood to look at kidney function, make the dog sick, give charcoal, begin intravenous fluid therapy for 72 hours, repeat blood at the end of the IVFT, and send them home if they’re okay.”

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Most Common Puppy Illnesses

Although puppies are significantly more accident-prone than adult dogs, illnesses make up the bulk of puppy claims.

The average cost of a puppy illness claim was slightly lower than for accidents, at $550. But prolonged treatment and repeat vet visits for some conditions could mean a significantly higher bill.

The most common puppy illnesses are digestive upsets, with diarrhea and vomiting topping the list. Gastroenteritis and giardiasis, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, were also common.

Puppy Illness Claim Percent of Claims
Diarrhea 12%
Vomiting 11%
Conjunctivitis 6%
Gastroenteritis 5%
Ear Infection 4%
Giardiasis 3%
Other 59%

Each of these illnesses is usually easily treated and relatively mild, but because of puppies’ small size and weight, they can deteriorate quickly, so it’s important to act fast when you see any sign of illness.

What to Do If Your Puppy Gets Diarrhea

If your puppy gets sick repeatedly, you need to get them to the vet. But if your dog’s otherwise bright and well and only has mild diarrhea, Dr. Sophie Bell has these tips for treating your pup at home:

  • Don’t starve them; they get much-needed nutrients, electrolytes, and moisture from their food.

  • Offer bland proteins like scrambled eggs (made with water) or boiled white fish, and add good dietary fiber alongside unsweetened canned pumpkin or butternut squash.

  • Feed little and often—small meals regularly throughout the day instead of two to three large meals. Do not offer their usual diet until the diarrhea has resolved for at least 24 hours.

  • Chamomile tea may help with diarrhea and gut discomfort. Brew it with a saucer on top and only offer small amounts with their food once it has cooled. (Check with your vet first.)

  • Use a pre- and pro-biotic that contains kaolin; these are available without a prescription and can also usually be bought from your vet.

How to Deal With Your Puppy's Ear Infection

“You cannot treat an infection at home,” says Sophie. “At best, you can use a dog-specific ear cleaner to remove excess debris and wax.

“Your vet may prescribe topical ear drops and can take a swab of the ear to identify the cause. They will look inside the ear, and they may need to perform sedation and flush the ears. Some dogs may also need oral steroids and antibiotics.”

Ear infections can be caused by ear mites, fungal infections, bacteria and viruses, allergies, or even foreign objects like grass seeds. Dogs that like to swim can get them more often, too.

Some common signs are:

  • Head shaking or pawing the side of the face

  • Offensive smell

  • Wax

  • inflamed or red ear or discharge

  • Crying when touched near to the ear

  • Jaw pain which may lead to trouble eating

  • Vomiting and nausea

Identifying your dog’s triggers can help avoid recurrent ear infections—things like swimming or food allergies. You should also check your dog’s ears regularly during grooming sessions. You can clean them, but don’t overclean, as that can encourage wax buildup.

Why Puppy Vaccines are Important

One of the most important things you can do to keep your puppy healthy is to get them vaccinated.

Claims for preventable diseases were thankfully very low. But illnesses like parvovirus and distemper can be devastating and often fatal for puppies.

More than three-quarters of the claims we saw for vaccine-preventable diseases were for kennel cough, which isn’t always included in your dog’s routine jabs, so make sure to ask your vet about it. It's particularly important for dogs that attend puppy training classes or doggy daycare.

Claims for vaccinable diseases in puppies

  1. Kennel Cough 76%

  2. Parvovirus 22%

  3. Leptospirosis 1%

  4. Hepatitis 1%

  5. Distemper 0.3%

Keep your puppy safe by having them vaccinated at the earliest possible opportunity and don’t take them anywhere that unvaccinated dogs could have been until two weeks after the end of their course. There are other ways to keep your unvaccinated or partially vaccinated puppy socialized.

How Puppy Insurance Can Help

The bottom line?

Puppies get into heaps of trouble. Thankfully, puppy insurance may help pay for those unexpected accidents and illnesses that are so common in dogs under one year of age (and beyond).


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Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.