Fading puppy syndrome affects puppies born with an immature immune system, and this system must be built over time, starting with their mother’s milk.

fading puppy syndrome
Newborn shetland sheepdog puppy – image by Jaclou-dl from pixabay

Puppies are vulnerable to various health problems due to immature body organs and systems, including infections and environmental, nutritional, and metabolic factors.

Many common bacteria can kill a vulnerable puppy in a very short time. Death often occurs quickly, with few clinical signs due to weakness and poor immune response.
Viral infections can cause fading puppy syndrome.

Death usually occurs within the first five days of life but can occur as late as ten weeks. It is responsible for approximately half of all puppy deaths, and around 30% of pedigree puppies die in their first weeks.

What Is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Fading puppy syndrome (or fading puppy complex) is when a puppy dies suddenly and unexpectedly. Puppies born with this syndrome are healthy and normal but fade and die within one to three weeks. Various factors, however, can contribute to this syndrome.
Why do puppies experience the Fading Puppy Syndrome?

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Puppies are extremely vulnerable to illness and environmental stress during their first two weeks of life because they cannot regulate their body temperature independently. Young puppies have a limited ability to control fluid and energy balance.

Furthermore, their immune systems are underdeveloped and have little protection against infections. As a result, puppies are more likely to die from various causes. Scientists and vets are unsure of the exact cause of fading puppy syndrome. However, the following conditions and circumstances are contributing factors.

  1. Poor maternal care
  2. Congenital disabilities
  3. Inadequate immunity
  4. Intestinal parasites
  5. Poor milk quality
  6. Lack of milk
  7. Bacterial infections
  8. Viral infections
  9. Low birth weight
  10. Dystocia

Fading Puppy Syndrome: What is Dystocia?

Dystocia (fetal macrosomia) happens when a dog has trouble giving birth due to an unexpectedly large pup. This state can cause prolonged labour and increase the risk of having a stillbirth or fading puppy syndrome. Puppies are also vulnerable to fading puppy syndrome if their mother doesn’t feed them quality or enough milk.

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Puppies depend on their mothers for survival because they can’t control their body temperature or survive independently. The mother’s milk nutrients help to develop the puppies’ immune systems, but an abnormal teat discharge or mammary gland infection in the mother can prevent puppies from developing immunity.

Due to their immature immune systems, other dangers like viruses, infections, and parasites can also increase the risk of fading puppy syndrome. Puppies can catch a virus from their mother if she is unvaccinated or has a virus like canine parvovirus, distemper, or adenovirus.

Some puppies are also born with congenital disabilities that can result in death if left untreated or undetected.

What Are The Symptoms Of Fading Puppy Syndrome?

It is often too late to save a puppy when clinical signs appear. Common symptoms include low birth weight, failure to gain weight at the same rate as other siblings, decreased activity, and an inability to suckle.

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These puppies typically don’t socialize with the mother or the other puppies in the litter. These puppies frequently experience severe lethargy, loss of muscle tone, and sudden death.

  1. When a puppy dies, it may lose interest in everything and the people around it.
  2. Newborn pups may also experience extreme fatigue, energy loss, and sleep in the most awkward positions.
  3. Extreme fatigue or energy loss is one of the most common signs that a pup may die.
  4. Newborn pups often experience loss of bladder and bowel control.
  5. Change or loss of appetite.
  6. She is breathing difficulty.

How can you tell if a newborn is dying?

Most symptoms of illness only last about 24 hours before death, and low weight and failure to thrive most times precede an illness. There may be a known cause, but approximately 55% of puppies that die from this condition have no identifiable reason, making it difficult to determine whether a newborn puppy is dying.

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However, a few key symptoms should always be considered warning signs in young puppies. These also indicate the most important things to watch when monitoring your puppy’s health.

  1. Loss of appetite: While sick puppies require nutrition, they frequently avoid eating when ill, which can quickly worsen their condition.
  2. Failure to gain weight: The early warning signs that your puppy is not getting enough nutrition is low birth weight, losing (rather than gaining) weight, or inability to gain weight.
  3. Neglect from the mother
  4. Soft stools or diarrhoea
  5. General weakness and lethargy: Keep a close watch on your puppies to see which ones are more active every day and which litter members seem less active than their siblings.
  6. Incessant crying: When puppies are unwell, they cry a lot, so keep an eye out for vocalizations. There is a noticeable difference between the happy vocalizations of a litter of pups and the distressed vocalizations of a sick puppy.
  7. Painful abdomen (puppy may make paddling movements)
  8. Vomiting
  9. Low body temperature: Puppies have lower temperatures than adult dogs, with temperatures typically beginning around 97 °F (36.1 °C) and rising to about 101 °F (38.3 °C) within the first few weeks of life. Anything below 94 °F (34.4 °C) is dangerous and can quickly lead to death. The puppies’ temperatures should be checked regularly with a rectal thermometer.
  10. Breathing difficulty
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How Can You Prevent The Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Puppies should be prevented from getting too cold. Within the first four days of life, the puppies’ environment temperature should be kept at 85-90°F (29.5-32°C). The temperature should be gradually reduced to around 80°F (26.7°C) by the seventh to the tenth day.

The entire room does not need to be heated to these temperatures, and using a heat lamp to provide heat over the whelping box is usually all that is required.

If the puppy develops bacterial septicemia, antibiotics may help, but strict hygiene and reasonable management procedures are the best methods to prevent this from happening. Your veterinarian should go over proper puppy care and cleaning procedures with you.

If your puppy isn’t sucking properly at its mother’s teat, DO NOT try to feed it home food or milk. Examine your pup’s urine for colour and look inside its mouth for signs of dryness to determine how well-hydrated it is. Your puppy may be dehydrated if it has a dry mouth and dark yellow urine.

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You must first contact your veterinarian for guidance if you notice any of these. Additionally, ensure the dam (mother) is effectively nursing the puppies and keep track of your puppy’s weight daily.

Proper home care significantly increases your puppy’s chances of recovering quickly and thoroughly. You must adhere to all instructions to ensure proper medication and feeding at home.

Do not stop the treatment, make changes on your own, or adjust the dosage schedule. Given that animals have wide variations in their drug metabolism and excretion at this immature stage, it is crucial to administer medications at the precise, prescribed dosage and time.


No matter how small, drug dosage changes can harm your puppy’s ability to recover. Due to its delicate needs and inability to eat properly, your puppy will also require extra care regarding nutrition.

Remember, if you are concerned that your puppy is ill, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian. If your puppy dies, an autopsy (necropsy) should be performed to determine the cause, and the result may assist you in preventing the death of other puppies from the exact cause.

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