Ask the Vet

Stray Puppy Comes with Responsibilities

That new family member needs a trip to the vet. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Victoria G. Myers)


We had a stray puppy come up to our barn, and my daughter fell in love with it. It is covered with fleas and ticks and it has a skin condition. If we keep it, what do we need to do to bring him around?


This puppy needs to see your veterinarian immediately, like today immediately. Fleas and ticks are what you see, but there are many other potential diseases that could threaten this puppy's life and potentially affect your family.

The good news is your veterinarian can assess this puppy and develop a treatment plan that in almost all cases will get this little guy on the road to recovery.

Fleas and ticks are gross, but more importantly they can lead to skin disease and anemia. Worse yet, they can carry diseases that can affect both dogs and humans. Sarcoptic mange, for example, is a potential disease that leads to skin infection. Dogs with sarcoptic mange itch badly. It can pass to humans, where it looks a lot like redbug or chigger bites. Demodectic mange or "red mange" is a noncontagious mange most commonly seen in young dogs. It can present as a spot or spots of hair loss, but can progress to dogs with severe skin infections and almost no hair.

Add to this the fact that most stray puppies will have worms. These parasites can make them very sick and more vulnerable to other diseases especially canine parvovirus. Hookworms and roundworms can infect people.

So, in addition to a complete physical examination, your veterinarian will check this puppy for worms and scrape the skin looking for mites. Demodex mites are easy to find, but sarcoptic mites can be very difficult to find. Fortunately, your veterinarian has products that are very effective for fleas, ticks and demodectic and sarcoptic manage.

We deworm every puppy the first time we see them, even if we do not find eggs when we check them. Immature worms do not produce eggs and others can be difficult to find. This stray puppy may need antibiotics and a medicated shampoo for the skin. If it's healthy enough it will need vaccinations. We also start puppies we see on heartworm preventive the first time they visit.

You have a project ahead of you, but it is a good project for a child and a family. There are certainly risks that this puppy could get sick, and there are some risks to people. But with proper care from you and your veterinarian, most of these puppies will make a complete recovery. Stray dogs almost always become extra special family members. Good luck!


Editor's Note:

Please contact your veterinarian with questions pertaining to the health of your herd or other animals. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask the Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email