Fading Puppy Syndrome

mother with puppiesWhat is fading puppy syndrome?

This describes a condition in which puppies are apparently normal at birth but fail to grow and die up to fourteen days later. This occurs despite the fact the bitch appears to be healthy, to have a plentiful supply of milk and is mothering them satisfactorily.

Pre-weaning losses in dogs can be up to a third with about half of these dying in the first seven days of life. This includes stillborn puppies.

Why do puppies fade in this way?

Puppies are very immature when they are born, e.g. they can neither see nor hear. They cannot regulate their own body temperature and have very poor mechanisms to regulate both fluid and energy balance. They are also immunologically incompetent for several weeks after birth relying solely for resistance to disease on the immunity conferred on them from the dam.

What are the signs?

In this very immature state the puppy only has a very limited number of ways in which it can respond. Thus signs are at best vague.  Usually puppies likely to ‘fade’ have a low birth weight or a failure to gain weight at the same rate as their siblings. Often there is decreased activity and inability to suckle properly. They have a tendency to remain separate from the dam and the rest of the litter and to vocalise with a strange, high pitched noise, often likened to the cry of a seagull ("Seagulling"). This can be quickly followed by inactivity, loss of muscle tone and death.

"Usually puppies likely to ‘fade’ have a low birth weight or a failure to gain weight at the same rate as their siblings. Often there is decreased activity and inability to suckle properly."

What are the causes?

There are many causes, some of which are interrelated.

  • Lack of mothering
  • Lack of milk
  • Defects present from birth (congenital defects). Some of these may not be immediately apparent, e.g. heart abnormalities
  • Low birth weight
  • Infectious causes

For example a lack of mothering instinct in the bitch coupled with poor environmental hygiene can often result in neonatal septicaemia and death in a very short time.

Lack of passive immunity

Some passive immunity is conferred on the puppy by the bitch in utero but the majority is acquired from the colostrum (fore milk). If the puppy does not obtain this either due to poor mothering, poor milk supply or bottle feeding the puppy is obviously more vulnerable.

Common canine bacteria can result in overwhelming septicaemia and death in such a vulnerable puppy in a very short time. Because of the very limited means of response on the part of the puppy there are usually very few clinical signs.

boy with puppyVirus infections

Virus infections are also important. Canine adenovirus, (canine hepatitis), canine distemper virus and canine parvovirus were all responsible for dying puppies before their widespread control by vaccination.

An important virus involved with fading puppies today is canine herpes virus (CHV). A vaccine is available overseas which can be administered to bitches thought to be infected which can dramatically reduce these neonatal losses. Although not yet available in Australia it is likely to become available in the near future.

What can I do if I think I have a problem with fading puppies?

  • It is important to ensure the puppy receives adequate fluid and warmth. Litters should never be allowed to become chilled or overheated. An environmental temperature of approximately 29-32 °C (85-90°F) should be maintained for the first week then gradually decrease as the puppies gain a normal body temperature (puppies less than 4 weeks of age have a lower normal body temperature than adults).
  • If the cause is due to bacterial septicaemia, antibiotics may be of help but equally important is scrupulous hygiene and good management procedures. We will be happy to discuss these with you
  • It is also important that you check the bitch, particularly for any discharges and possible mastitis, metritis etc.

If you are at all worried, do not hesitate to consult us and ensure that any puppies that die are preserved for possible post mortem examination.

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