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What is Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome)?

Early or sudden death in puppies is usually referred to as fading puppy syndrome. The death is often preceded by few or very short signs of illness. This is most common in the first week of life, but may occur up to 3 weeks old. A number of different conditions can cause fading puppy syndrome. Sometimes solitary puppy deaths are related to a birth defect that was not immediately apparent. Sometimes the mother will fail to care for the weaker or smaller members of the litter. Young puppies have poorly developed immune systems. They acquire antibodies from the milk the mother dog produces directly after birth, called the colostrum. Puppies that fail to nurse adequately will not receive these antibodies and are much more likely to catch a serious infection. Sometimes a breast infection (mastitis) or calcium deficiency in the mother can limit her milk supply. Canine herpesvirus is another common cause of fading puppy syndrome. This virus can be passed from the mother in utero or from infected fluids after birth. It is usually not symptomatic in adults, but it causes death in puppies up to about 3 weeks of age. If the mother has the virus, the puppies may be born weak to begin with, or even stillborn.

Sometimes puppies appear to be healthy at birth but die suddenly in the first few weeks of life. Veterinarians define this as fading puppy syndrome or sudden death in puppies. A number of different conditions are responsible for these deaths.

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Symptoms of Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) in Dogs

Most signs of illness last only about 24 hours before death occurs. Sometimes illness may be preceded by low weight and failure to thrive. Call the veterinarian as soon as you notice any of the following signs.

  • Low weight at birth
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Ignored by the mother
  • Soft stools or diarrhea
  • Continual crying
  • Painful abdomen (puppy may make paddling movements)
  • Vomiting
  • Salivation
  • Difficulty breathing

Types

Fading puppy syndrome may be infectious or congenital.

  • Infectious – this is more of a concern since it could be a danger to other members of the litter.
  • Congenital – either a birth defect or a runt that was underdeveloped at birth.

The two types overlap since mother dogs often fail to care as well for weak or small puppies and these animals are more liable to develop infection.

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Causes of Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) in Dogs

These are the most common causes and contributing factors. 

  • Inadequate maternal care
  • Lack of milk production in the mother
  • Lack of feeding time compared to siblings
  • Birth defect
  • Low weight at birth (runt of the litter)
  • Neonatal septicemia – bacterial infection that becomes systemic and kills the puppy very quickly
  • Viral infection (often inherited from the mother) Canine herpesvirus, canine parvovirus, canine distemper, canine adenovirus 
  • Intestinal parasite especially hookworm
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Diagnosis of Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) in Dogs

The veterinarian will examine the puppy physically for signs of infection, birth defects or other problems. Blood, urine, and fecal samples may also be taken. Often death occurs too suddenly for diagnosis or treatment. In this case, it’s a good idea to take the puppy for posthumous examination anyway, so the cause can be determined since some conditions could pose a threat to other members of the litter.

The veterinarian will want to know the medical history or the mother as well as recent vaccinations and any prior births or pregnancies. There is no vaccination for canine herpesvirus. Over time, the mother will develop antibodies which she will pass on to subsequent litters, so this disease will not be present in several litters from the same mother. Signs of illness or abnormal behavior in the mother dog can also be relevant. The veterinarian will likely need to examine her also to check for signs of mammary or uterine infection, as well as glandular problems that can cause low blood calcium during lactation and lead to poor milk production. Bloodwork and urine tests will likely be needed.

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Treatment of Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) in Dogs

The veterinarian will give you instructions on how to care for the remaining puppies. This can often limit instances of fading puppy syndrome. Young puppies need to maintain a temperature around 85-90⁰ Fahrenheit. Heating lamps can help, especially if the mother is neglecting or pushing away some puppies. Puppies that are ignored repeatedly may need to be bottle fed to supplement nutrition. The puppy’s bedding should be changed regularly and cleaned thoroughly.

Puppies with bacterial infection may be given antibiotics. The mother may also need to be treated with antibiotics for a mammary infection and the puppies may need to be removed and fed by hand until she is able to produce milk again. Calcium supplements for the mother may also be necessary.

Viral causes of fading puppy syndrome are difficult to treat. If the puppies don’t receive adequate antibodies from the colostrum, they will be at risk until they are old enough to be vaccinated. If canine herpesvirus or another virus is directly inherited from the mother, the remaining puppies may be separated to avoid further infection.

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Recovery of Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) in Dogs

Prevention is the best way to manage early death in puppies. Regular vaccinations in the mother dog can help to reduce the puppies’ likelihood of exposure to viruses. The dam should be monitored for bacterial infections or canine herpesvirus during pregnancy. Maintaining her health throughout the gestation and lactation period is extremely important for the puppies’ survival. Practicing good hygiene when handling the puppies can also help to minimize the spread of infection. Some early deaths may be unavoidable, however, especially if the puppy has a problem at birth.

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Written by Michele K.

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 03/02/2016, edited: 02/24/2021

Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Chihuahua

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3 months

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Painful Urination

My puppy was playing two days ago Now she just lay around Barely eat and drink I don't want no bother

Jan. 31, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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7 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this. She sounds very unwell and needs to be seen by a vet ASAP as pups can go downhill quickly and lethargy like this is highly abnormal. The vet will examine her and may run some tests such as a blood test and urine analysis. She may have e.g. bladder stones or a urinary infection.

Jan. 31, 2021

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Shih Tzu

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10 days

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Wont Nurse, Strangled Sounding Whine

we have a puppy that had lost about .4 oz since the weigh in yesterday. I havemt seen him nurse much if at all today and he has a very strangled sounding whine

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm sorry that your pup is having problems. If he is not nursing and seems in distress, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they can see him, examine him and try to determine what might be going on. I hope that he is okay.

Sept. 30, 2020

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Pit Bull

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New born

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Bleeding Private Area

Male from my 4 day old liter genitals are spotting blood

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. That appears to be some sort of trauma or infection. If this is still happening, it would be best to have your pup seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to examine the pup and see what treatment he may need.

Oct. 7, 2020

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mixed breed(bulbul and bullmastif

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3 weeks

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Wailing Foaming And Biting

solution for the puppy wailing and biting and foaming and acting like it’s choking

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Without being able to see her, unfortunately, I can't say why the puppy is having this behavior. It would be best to have the pup seen by a veterinarian who can examine the puppy and see what might be causing this. They will be able to give you an idea as to treatment once they can see the pup.

Oct. 7, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Six Weeks

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Noisy Breathing

Is my puppy dying? She’s not eating and we tried bottle feeding her. She whining or breathing loudly in her sleep and won’t move/have no energy.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Puppies are very prone to parasites and infectious diseases, and some of those can be fatal if not treated by a veterinarian. I hope that she is okay.

Oct. 9, 2020

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Sparkle

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Pit bull

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Excessive Saliva
Excessive Shedding

My dog sparkle has had two sets of puppies within a year and a half,the first litter she had 12, all died...3 of them were healthy,running around and the next day its like they got sick,stopped playing one by one...they were 4 mnths when they died..it is now 2 years later and she just had 8, 2 weeks ago..they were sucking milk real good, holding their head and moving around, now there is one left. ..it's a boy,he stopped breathing this morning and also became hard,he was dead, then all of a sudden as I was about to bury him,with him being dead for 3 min. He became soft and warm and started breathing again...but I'm still scared he won't make it.

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10 Pups

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Brittany (Spaniel)

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11 Days

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Diarrhea

My 11 day old pups have diarrhea. Is this bad? They are all eating fine... Do they have parasites, or are they ok? There are 10 pups, seven girls and 3 boys, and I think all of them are having really loose diarrhea, and their whelping box stinks.

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Angel pups

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Mix

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2 Weeks

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Painful Urination
Crying
Painful
Won'T Nurse

I am in rescue and recently a pregnant dog had puppies a day before arriving. The shelter literally vaccinated the mom the day she ended up delivering. They were doing well for just about 2 weeks. Now, each day one is sharp, short, whining and won't eat. The gum color also seems to pale. They act like they are choking if I introduce any liquid to the mouth. They sound painful.

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Thorin

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Rottweiler

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2 Weeks

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Serious severity

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Pain, Cannot Eat

Beside myself... Mom delivered 6 total puppies. The last one (female) died right as mom severed cord. Second to last has been struggling. He is a little male, and I mean tiny. They are 2 weeks old now and he goes back and forth to being able to eat from mom and bottle. We had to add a dropper because he is not eating enough. He can barely eat an oz in a day. Today we thought he was doing better, but now he will not even latch on to mom or let us feed him. He moves his head at all or we pick him up to try and feed him he cries in pain. I am so broken hearted because we have tried so hard to keep him with us. I understand now about the signs of Early Death, but I don't know what else we can do for the little guy...

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Petunia

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Golden Retriever

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5 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Crying
Wont Eat
Won'T Drink
Malnourished
Neglected By Mother
Runt Of The Liter

My dog Petunia has been pushing away the bottles of formula that we've been trying to feed her. She wont et the soft food we've tried to let her chew. She'll only eat maybe once a week, and she'd only eat maybe a small amount, nothing much.When she was born, her mother neglected her. When she was born, she was the smallest. So, she never got any warmth or milk from her mother. She never really drunk much milk, only a little. Please help me! Any and all help is wanted and needed. If there is any medicine that you prescribe, please make it something for puppies obviously. Please help! I've either had dogs die or be taken away from me. The rest of the liter is fine.

Early Death (Fading Puppy Syndrome) Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $300

Average Cost

$250

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