What is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Puppy being examined with a stethoscope

 Fading Puppy Syndrome describes puppies that appear normal at birth but gradually fade (weaken) and die, usually within the first few weeks of their lives. However, on some occasions, this can happen as late as ten weeks of age.

Average pre-weaning losses in dogs, including stillborn puppies, can be up to thirty percent, and half of these deaths occur within the first seven days of life.

Fading puppy syndrome is uncontrollable. The puppies die of unknown etiologies (causes).

The syndrome can also be known as failure to thrive and early death.

Puppies nuzzling each other

Fading Puppy Syndrome: Why does it happen?

Newborn puppies are very vulnerable. They are hypersensitive to illness and environmental stress since they cannot regulate their body temperature independently.

Very young puppies have difficulty regulating their fluid and energy balance. Their immune system is also not fully functioning, making them vulnerable to illness.

Puppies are born blind and deaf, but their sense of smell helps them find their mother’s nipples. Feeding on the colostrum, the particular fluid mother dogs produce for 24-48 hours after giving birth. Puppies can absorb these nutrients, boosting their immune system and allowing them to thrive and fight illnesses until they grow older.

However, some puppies fail to thrive and gradually die for no specific reason. The mother dog will help for a while, but then she will allow nature to run its course, as there is only so much she can do.

You will want to do everything you can to keep the puppies alive. However, it is essential to be realistic about their chances of survival, and it will be difficult for you to watch them die.

Clinical signs of fading puppy syndrome

If a puppy shows clinical signs, it’s usually too late to save the puppy. A pup that fails to gain weight at the same rate as its siblings has a low birth weight, is inactive, and is unable to suckle are signs commonly found among these types of pups. In addition, these puppies usually remain separate from their mother and the rest of the litter. They also cry weakly in a high-pitched tone. This “seagulling” is often referred to as such because it resembles the cry of seagulls. Puppies who do this usually quickly progress to severe lethargy, loss of muscle control, and death.

Momma dog licking puppy

Causes: why does fading puppy syndrome happen

Fading puppies fail to thrive due to many reasons:

• These puppies develop problems while still in the uterus, during the birth process, or weaning

• Some might have congenital disabilities such as the cleft palate, heart defects, or rectal abnormalities

• Poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy, the administration of drugs, or simply uterine malnutrition due to an overly large litter

• Puppies succumb to bacterial and viral infections. Canine parvovirus, E-coli along with staphylococcus and streptococcus infections, are some factors

• Unsanitary conditions can cause umbilical cord infections leading to septicemia

These are more common factors:

• Lack of adequate care from the mother dog

• Low birth weight

• Infectious causes

• Lack of milk production or poor-quality milk

• Inadequate nursing 

• Congenital defects in the puppy

One or more factors can contribute to fading puppy syndrome. For example, a lack of a mothering instinct and poor hygiene can lead to a puppy becoming infected with systemic infection in a short time.

Many common bacteria can quickly cause septicemia and death in a vulnerable puppy. Because of weakness and poor immune response, death occurs quickly.

Viral infections may cause fading puppy syndrome. Suppose the mother is carrying a virus or isn’t correctly vaccinated. In that case, the puppies are more likely to get an infection or have a weaker immune system. Canine parvovirus, adenovirus, and canine Distemper are causes of fading puppy syndrome.

Signs of early death

Most signs of illness last only 24 hours before death occurs. Call the veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these signs:

• Low weight at birth or losing weight

• Failure to gain weight

• Ignored by the mother dog

• Soft stools or diarrhea

• Continual crying

• Painful abdomen to touch

• Vomiting

• Salivation (excessive drooling)

• Difficulty breathing

Generally, “faders” will be born normally by all appearances, eager to suckle. Then, however, they will become weak, lose their appetite, lose weight, and become restless and vocal.

These signs can appear between two to ten days after birth.

Puppy feeding from teat

Types of fading puppy syndrome

Fading puppy syndrome may be infectious or congenital.

• Infectious- is more of a concern as it may be a danger to other litter members.

• Congenital- is either a congenital disability or a runt developed at the birth process

Is fading puppy syndrome inherited or genetic?

No, fading puppy syndrome is not inherited or genetic. However, newborn puppies are very vulnerable because they are born with incomplete immune systems.

The litter would rely on passive immunity to survive. Puppies cannot develop resistance to illnesses on their own; they need an external source to thrive.

Dogs have their own natural way of giving passive immunity to their puppies.

How to help fading puppies

The best thing for you to do is care for the runt or fader with the help of your veterinarian. Even though good home care will give your puppy the best chance of recovering and surviving, it is still crucial for them to have veterinary care.

Always follow the guidelines to ensure your puppy is adequately fed and medicated at home.

It is crucial to give medications at the exact time and prescribed dosage. Even a slight change in dosage can be dangerous to the pup’s recovery.

Faders undergoing therapy should be fed and medicated at a frequency specific to their size, age, and breed.

They need heat, calories, and fluids for the first 2-4 days of their life.

Ensure that the fading sick puppy has its own safe space away from the healthy puppies. The space must have a heating pad and be partially covered.

Provide different amounts of padding over the heating pad on other parts of the space, so your dog can find a comfortable spot.

Talk to your vet to learn how to do this safely.

Aside from managing other vital factors, such as stimulation, urination, and defecation, any puppy undergoing this technique should be strong enough after 48 hours to rejoin the litter.

Give the pup a drop of Karo (corn) syrup every couple of hours. Wait 5 minutes, then place the puppy on the mother’s nipples to nurse.

Choose a nipple where the other puppies won’t get in the way of the weak or small puppies trying to nurse. If that is not possible, the other puppies should be temporarily placed in another box while the fading puppy nurses.

When using oxytocin, take the fader or slow-gaining puppy to its mother’s teat for at least fifteen minutes after the shot.

How to keep weak newborn puppies alive


The survival of your puppy depends on the underlying causes. Proper Veterinary care will be needed, especially in the case of serious diseases such as Parvo or Distemper.

Severe congenital defects have a poor prognosis. In addition, bacterial infections may be present with the need for antibiotics.


if you find cold puppies, they need to be warmed carefully and gradually by holding them next to the skin. Never heat a chilled puppy too quickly, as it can be dangerous.


Feed your dog this recipe:

• Half a teaspoon of salt

• Two teaspoons of sugar

• Two teaspoons of honey

Dissolve these ingredients in one cup of comfortable, warm water. This solution should be dropper-fed every few minutes to the dog. Make sure your puppy receives adequate fluid.

Special treatment

Fading puppies should always be separated from the other puppies and put in a whelping box with a heating pad. A fading puppy should be given drops of Karo syrup every couple of hours by rubbing it onto their gums.

Fluids, as necessary, should be given via sub Q injection(under the skin )per your vet’s instructions to keep the pup well hydrated.

Mother’s milk

When the puppy seems more energetic, it should be allowed to nurse. If the healthy pups get in the way, move them to a separate box with a heating pad until the fading weak pups are finished nursing.

How to prevent Fading Puppy Syndrome

Prevention is better than a cure, as some might say.

To ensure the puppies are doing well, we must look after and care for their mother.

You need to take care of the female dog from when she becomes pregnant to when she gives birth.

Always remember each stage and event in your dog’s life affects their puppies.

If you have newborn puppies, they need colostrum from their mother dog within the first 12 hours of life.

Practicing cleanliness and proper management of your dog and her puppies will go a long way in avoiding losing your puppy to fading puppy syndrome.

Even though not all cases of fading puppy syndrome can be prevented. Here are a few ways to try to help prevent it from happening:

• Feeding the mother a high-quality diet

• A culture for vaginal E-coli bacteria is recommended in bitches before breeding

• A veterinary visit for the mother and her puppies after delivering

• De-wormers should be given per the vet’s instructions

• Mother dogs should not take antibiotics before or after giving birth (unless told otherwise by the vet)

• If a mother dog loses a lot of her litter to fading puppy syndrome, it is advised that she shouldn’t breed again

Diagnosis of early death

Your veterinarian will examine the puppy physically for signs of infection, congenital disabilities, or other problems. Blood, urine, and fecal samples might also be required.

Death often happens too quickly for diagnosis or treatment.

If this happens, it is a good idea to take the puppy for a necropsy examination to determine the cause of death, which may threaten other litter members.

The vet will need to know the mother’s medical history, recent vaccinations, and any prior births or pregnancies.

Signs of abnormal behavior or illness in the mother dog can also be relevant. For example, the vet may need to examine her also to check for mammary or urine infections and glandular problems that can cause low blood calcium during lactation and lead to poor milk production.

Puppy getting a health exam as owner looks on

How to treat fading puppy syndrome

It is crucial to keep the puppy warm and receive adequate fluid.

Puppies should not become chilled. The optimal environmental temperature for puppies during the first four days of life is between 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can gradually decrease the temperature to 80 degrees Fahrenheit by the seventh to the tenth day. A heat lamp over the whelping box is all that is necessary; you don’t have to heat the full room.

If a bacterial infection develops, antibiotics may be necessary. However, strict hygiene and good management procedures are also critical.

Products containing bleach should not be used in or around the puppies. Your veterinarian will tell you the proper care and cleaning of the puppies and their environment. 

Viral causes of dog fading puppy syndrome are more challenging to treat. For example, suppose puppies don’t receive adequate antibodies from the colostrum. In that case, they may be at risk until they are old enough to be vaccinated.

Suppose a mother dog has the canine herpes virus or any other contagious disease. In that case, her puppies should be removed to avoid spreading the infection.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you have any worries that your pup is sick. If sadly, a puppy dies, a necropsy (autopsy) should be initiated to determine the cause. Doing so may help prevent other puppies from dying from the same cause.

We cannot stress enough the importance of seeking qualified care immediately if you suspect a puppy is fading.

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