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Fading Puppy Syndrome 101


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There are exciting times ahead, when your female dog is expecting the patter of tiny paws. However, things can quickly turn to heartache if the litter fails to thrive, slowly fades, and puppies pass away. Unfortunately, this is anything but unusual and is known by the umbrella term 'fading puppy syndrome.'

Fading puppy syndrome is more of a description than a diagnosis. This is borne out of there often being no obvious cause for the puppy fatalities, and the owner feels helpless to do anything other than watch the pup grow weaker and die.

However, this is not necessarily the case. There are factors that positively influence the health of the litter and get the odds going in your favor of strong, vigorous puppies.

What Causes Puppies to 'Fade'?

The causes can be roughly divided into environmental, maternal, and infectious.

Environmental Factors: The surroundings the puppies are kept in.

■ Puppies depend on warmth to digest their milk. A chilled or cool puppy won't digest their milk, which then ferments in the gut, leading to diarrhea, dehydration, and death.
■ Puppies can absorb toxins through their delicate skin. Be especially careful to wash away all disinfectant residues of any surface the puppies come into contact with.

Maternal: This includes the care the mother gives to her pups.

■ If she has a large litter or insufficient milk, the weaker pups may be sidelined and grow progressively weaker.
■ Below average birth weight makes a puppy more likely to fade.
■ The mother providing good antibody protection in her milk is crucial to her pups’ ongoing health.

Infectious: Microbes and parasites can wipe out vulnerable pups.

E Coli, staphs, streps, and herpes virus are responsible for neonatal puppy infections resulting in death.
■ Heavy worm burdens can be passed from mother to pup, resulting in neonatal infections that prove fatal.

Reducing the Risks of Fading Puppy Syndrome

What can you do to ensure a strong healthy litter? Quite a lot, as it happens!

Maternal Health

Make sure the female dog is fit and well going into pregnancy. Make sure her vaccines and deworming are up-to-date, so that the benefit is passed onto her pups. Consider isolating the mother in the final three weeks of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of herpes infection.

Environmental Concerns

Carefully monitor the temperature in the nursing box and make sure all pups are warm and well-fed. If necessary, hand feed weaker pups to ensure adequate nutrition.

Monitor Puppy Weight

Record the weight of each puppy twice a day. A healthy pup should gain 5 - 10% of the birth weight daily, after the first couple of days (when they tend to drop weight). Losing weight, instead of gaining, is a good predictor of problems and should trigger a vet check.


Wipe the newborn's navel with a pet-safe disinfectant. Keep the whelping area clean and disinfected (but remove cleaning residues before allowing pups back in).

First Feed

Arguably, most crucial of all is having the pups feed and take some of the mother's colostrum (antibody-rich, first milk) within a couple of hours of birth. Missing out on that early colostrum means the developing immune system loses out big time.

Signs to Watch For

Spotting worrying signs of fading early-on, gives the pup the best chance of successful treatment and recovery. Be vigilant for:

■ Pups that spend time away from the rest of the litter
■ Pups that lose, rather than gain, weight
■ Low birth weight pups
■ Failure to nurse well from the mother
■ Crying and restlessness.

If you are concerned about any pup in the litter, seek veterinary help as soon as possible. Prompt treatment may not always result in a happy ending, but it can greatly improve the chances of that pup surviving and growing into a happy healthy dog.

Wag! Specialist
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