Fading Puppy Syndrome


Vets seem unable to offer a concrete explanation for fading puppy syndrome and it is fairly common in all breeds.  Puppies that die in the first few eeks of life with no obvious cause are often called "fading puppies".  Some say it is a type of meconium poisoning and others suggest that the bitch may have been too young to have pups or maybe a virus was carried to the bitch in pregnancy.  Affected puppies tend to be cold and undernourished before they die, but the cause is usually not established. Typically, a puppy will fail to gain weight and suckle and becomes listless and dull.  In other cases, puppies that appear to have been thriving suddenly deteriorate.  Even if the puppy is warmed up, given fluids and food, it may still die.  Tube feeding the litter every two hours day and night is suggested in order to help the pups gain weight but is not always successful.  It is an arduous task as it not only means feeding the pups but afterwards cleaning the dirt away with cotton wool balls or tissue.  You will probably need a series of lessons from your vet to show you exactly how it is done.  The tube is inserted into the pups tummies and then a syringe is used to push the milk through.  This is the most direct way to ensure the correct amount of nourishment is given.  You can feed with a bottle and teat providing that the pups suckle correctly.

Causes include viruses such as canine herpes and adenovirus, and bacteria such as Ecoli, staphylococcal and streptococcal infections.  Supportive treatment is vital and may allow time for investigations to determine the cause of the problem.  Where it occurs frequently, breeders should examine aspects of the breeding environment such as the bitch's health and diet.
source:  Harvey caruthers

Fading Puppy Syndrome
Fading Puppy
Fading Puppy Syndrome

Fading Puppy Syndrome

 John Kohnke BVSc RDA.
Consultant to Vetsearch International

Some puppies, despite adequate feed, do not thrive and as a result grow poorly. They often suffer from a variety of digestive upsets and respiratory problems as part of their general ill-thrift condition. Sometimes the failure to thrive can affect a single pup in a litter, or, in more severe cases, a number of puppies will develop what is often termed "fading puppy syndrome", and die within 5 - 10 days.

Many of these puppies are vigorous and healthy at birth, but within 2-10 days lose their interest in nursing. They often"cry" in a monotonous way as though they are in pain or discomfort. They lose body weight, crawl into corners away from the rest of the litter and die, despite careful nursing.

A normal puppy will sleep most of the time until it is 3-4 weeks of age. Most puppies will suckle, sleep and may crawl over each other during the first 2-3 weeks. If a pup does not do this it should be carefully examined. Most new born puppies up to 3-4 days of age, will curl up when placed belly up on the palm of the hand. After this time and up until about 3 weeks of age, a healthy puppy will stretch out when picked up and lift its legs up. Any puppy that does not show this response, should be treated as being abnormal, or having some sort of nervous condition, or likely to have "fading puppy syndrome".

The common term, "fading puppy syndrome", describes the symptoms, rather than an actual or separate disease, in young puppies. Affected young puppies are generally less active, lack vitality, and often fade away, and finally die within 2-3 weeks of birth. They often fail to gain body weight in proportion to their age and their litter mates, despite appearing to suckle well and consume part of their special puppy food, e.g.. Farex and milk, from the first week of age. In most cases, fading puppies will suffer a low-grade infection with a virus or bacterial germ. However, occasionally, failure to thrive can be due to inborn metabolic errors, from a genetic or development abnormality, or other internal digestive malfunction in the young puppy. Puppies that seem normal at birth but rapidly deteriorate within the first 2-4 days, are most likely to have a bacterial infection, which can cause them to lose interest in nursing and deteriorate from the first day of birth. Usually, these puppies die within the first 2-5 days after birth, although some may linger on, depending on the amount of nursing and any other type of therapy that is given.

Bacterial Germ Infection:
Bacterial germs can gain entry in the womb birth canal or through the navel stump. However, in most cases, it is thought that the bitch herself carries the infection in her womb prior to birth, and the Staph, Strep, and E-Coli germs contaminate the pup's digestive system and blood. In severe cases, the contamination can be spread as the bitch licks her new-born puppies to warm and clean them after birth. In sever cases, puppies that are born small and weak may already be infected by the germs that build up in the womb, because of a low-grade infection in the uterine horns themselves. Most of the puppies that develop a severe sepicaemic infection during the first 2-4 days of birth usually are born healthy. They are initially active, but start to deteriorate within the first 12-24 hours. As compared with a viral infection, which occurs at a later stage from 1-2 weeks of age, puppies with a bacterial infection, which occurs at a later stage between 1-2 weeks of age, puppies with a bacterial infection, usually lose condition and appetite within a few hours. The most significant sign is swelling and distension of the belly. The navel cord often becomes more prominent and reddened due to infection.

Young puppies do not have a lot of reserves, and infection quickly sets up a lethal toxic reaction. It is essential to get them to your vet as soon as possible so that suitable antibiotic treatment, usually Lincomycin, can be given. The naval stump should be treated with antiseptics, such as a weak iodine solution, to dry it out and reduce the risk of it maintaining an active route of infection.

Proper nursing to ensure that the puppies are kept warm and fed with bottles will help to increase the chance they will recover. However, it is most important not to waste time hoping the puppies will get better and improve. You must recognize the problem as soon as possible, particularly if a puppy starts to fade and develop a bloated tummy, and promptly seek advice from your et. Some breeders separate affected puppies away from the other ones so that they do not have a chance of spreading any infection on their skin and naval cords as the bitch licks them and transfers it to the other puppies. However, again your vet will give you advice on the best way to manage the sick puppies.

Viral Problems::
In most cases, the range of normal canine viruses that are present in the environment can affect the young, new-born puppy. The bitch herself may be immune, but the puppies can be susceptible, depending on their colostrum intake. studies earlier in Australia have shown that the Canine Herpes Virus, a flu-like virus,can be a cause for fading puppy syndrome, with typical signs of lethargy, crying, and oozing of mucus exudates from the nose and eyes. It is most commonly observed in puppies in a crowded nursing area. Usually, puppies are affected under one week of age and die over a two-three week period. Although some puppies may die within 12-24 hours of becoming less active, others may linger on, depending on the amount of nursing and care given to support them. However, on post mortem, most puppies that die show bleeding of the liver surface and also often haemorrhages and bluish congestion in the bowels. The kidneys may also lose colour, feel soft and mushy and have internal haemorrhages throughout the cut surface.

Diagnosis of this type is obviously a job for your vet, and this can help confirm that sickness is caused by a virus present in the kennel group.

Unfortunately, if a virus is suspected, there is no targeted treatment available, and supportive therapy and good nursing is the only way to help a puppy fight the viral disease. Often the weaker and smaller puppies in a litter are the first to fade.

Support Theraphy:
If given early enough, a course of antibiotics over 5-7 days can help to delay the onset of secondary bacterial infection of viral damaged tissue in the lungs, gut or liver. However, the most effective supportive therapy, is to give an injection of blood serum from another healthy animal. Collection of the blood and preparation of the serum is a job strictly for your vet. It is best to allow your vet to take a blood sample from a dog that has been boosted recently. Alternatively, one that has a full vaccination course with regular annual boosters against the common viral infections that affect dogs, can be used a s a donor. The bitch herself can be used as a serum donor if she has been vaccinated during pregnancy, and some of the weaker pups did not suckle enough colostrum to give them adequate protection in the first place. However, if the bitch was not vaccinated, or her puppies have received adequate colostrum, and still fade, then she may have low blood antibody levels herself. he would not be a suitable donor in this case.

Various other studies have suggested that puppies may be infected by a bitch that has not been vaccinated regularly. The virus localises and spreads through the membranes during the whelping process, or by inhalation of the virus after birth as the puppies are licked by their mother, or become contaminated in a heavily crowded puppy area. It is important therefore, to ensure the bitch is given a booster "4 in 1 shot" at between 4 to 6 weeks prior to whelping (no later). Consult your own vet on the best vaccine type and combination to use. Nowadays, with a wide range of excellent vaccines available, a planned vaccination program carried out during pregnancy, can help to boost the immunity passed in the colostrum, or first milk, against common viruses. Most puppies that suckle strongly will take in enough colostrum antibodies to protect them against minor viral infections during the first 2-3 weeks of age.

Maintain Warmth:
It is most important of course to keep puppies warm for the first week to ten days of age. During this time they rely on external warmth to keep them warm, either from the bitch curled up around them, or the bedding. If puppies are not gaining weight and suckling properly, then they should be considered to be abnormal and require investigation. Most health young puppies will double their birth weight in the first 7 to 10 days of birth and then double it again within the next three weeks. Normally, younger puppies have a lower body temperature of 36.5 -37 degrees C., which begins to increase after the first two weeks of age. This is because puppies lose a lot of heat into the environment, and their body temperature is lower. Once they start to generate their own heat from metabolism, and can shiver from about two weeks of age, they maintain a higher body temperature of 37.5-38 degrees C.

It is always a good idea to nurse young puppies that are sick by keeping them in a warm area, as cold conditions weaken their resistance when exposed to chilling. If they move away from a warming light overnight, or crawl away from the rest of the puppy group, it will increase the cold stress and hasten the onset of their deterioration. Lack of adequate nest bedding and a protected area for the bitch, also increases the risk of fading puppy syndrome, particularly during the colder months. Besides ensuring young puppies, weak or less active ones in particular, are kept warm,attentive nursing of sick or fading puppies is paramount to their chance of recovery. Loss of body heat and chilling is a common reason for rapid decline in sick puppies. Their large body surface relative to their size, with little hair to insulate against heat loss, increases the risk of hypothermia as they fade.

Monitor Floor Temperature:
Purchase an accurate household room thermometer and place it at the level of the bedding, obviously protected from accidental damage as the bitch moves around. It is important to monitor the temperature bedding level, as this is likely to be the coolest area. Warm air rises, and even if there is a warm zone at our head height, it may be colder at floor level. Do not over-heat puppies with infra-red lamps. For the first week of life, maintain floor temperature at 30 degrees C., and at about 25-27 degrees C. for older puppies. Adjust heat lamps or Column oil-filled heaters to maintain this temperature range, especially overnight. Your vet will give you specific nursing advice for very sick puppies. However, it is essential that you give therapy at timed intervals, and complete the course of treatment, even if puppies recover and regain their strength and vitality.

Maintain Fluids and Energy:
Pupies that are under stress of disease, or are losing body weight, have a much better chance of recovery if they are given fluids to prevent dehydration. It is best to give fluids warmed to body heat. This is best gauged by adding clean, warm water until drops of the fluid placed on the bare skin the underside of your wrist do not feel cold or hot. Although a sugar solution, to provide energy and fluids, made up by adding one and one half teaspoons of glucose per 100ml of boiled water (seven and one half percent glucose), is the optimum concentration. It is best to provide electrolytes as well with the glucose drink. A rehydration fluid, such as Recharge is ideal, as it contains glucose and electrolytes in the combined formulation. However, it must be diluted before giving to puppies and extra glucose must be added.

This is the recipe- Keep it filed away in case you ever need it !
Add 5ml of "Recharge" to 100ml(about half a cupful) of boiled water that has been cooled to blood heat. Mix 5g (one teaspoonful) of glucose powder into the 100ml of made up Recharge. Stir well and ensure it is at blood temperature before feeding. This energy and electrolyte solution can be given with a small nursing bottle and teat to puppies that can still suckle, or with an eye dropper to puppies that are too weak.. I normally recommend that you carefully pick up the puppy by wrapping it in a small towel-type face washer and gently hold it with its head upright when giving it the rehydration mixture. After the puppy has been given the mixture, it will normally want to sleep. Place it back gently in a warm place, still wrapped in the face washer, with its head out.

As a guide, puppies should be given about 10-15ml of the mixture per 100g of body weight over a 24 hour period, or roughly 5ml(I teaspoonful) per 100g bodyweight very 6-8 hours.

It is important to consult your vet immediately, if a puppy develops diarrhea or becomes dehydrated and less active, despite your expert nursing care.

reprinted with kind permission from
John Chandler, Secretary/webmaster, ACDSCNQ

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Fading Puppy Syndrome
Shortened from the Boxer '81 yearbook
published by South Western Boxer Club of Great Britain
By Erma J. Kovach

As dog breeders, we want to do everything possible to assure the birthing of healthy litters of puppies. Not only is this desirable from an economical standpoint, but in the majority of cases each litter has been carefully planned with the idea that from this breeding, hopefully will come that great dog - the dog that will put us in the breeders' winners circle - a dog that will stamp his mark on the breed.

We study genetics and avidly read all the pieces of literature to aid us in not only producing an outstanding litter but in raising all of the puppies to saleable age. I am certain that most of you have read, as I have, the recommendation that penicillin or some type of antibiotic be administered to the bitch immediately following the birth of the last puppy to guard against uterine infections that sometimes occur after whelping. I have even read statements that this initial antibiotic should be followed up by oral doses for the first week.

But then, something begins to happen Sometimes within only 72 hours a puppy will begin acting full, sleepy and showing no interest in nursing. Later the puppy's stomach seems distended and it gives that pitiful puppy cry as death approaches.

"Oh well, you're bound to lose one puppy" the breeder reasons. It was one of the best looking ones, though, and fearful the bitch might have gotten an infection that could be passed on to the puppies, he either gives another shot of antibiotics or starts the bitch on oral doses of antibiotics as a safeguard, then, others begin acting the same way as the first puppy did and the breeder stands by helplessly and watches the entire litter die, although the bitch is as healthy as can be. What this breeder has experienced is the loss of his puppies to what is called the "Fading puppy syndrome."

As a breeder, I'm no different from anyone else with the exception that, possibly along with others of you' I am squeamish when it comes to sticking the needle in, so I take my bitch and puppies to the veterinarian within 24 hours after they are born so he can check them and the bitch to see if everything is all right.

In recent years it has seemed more and more breeders have been losing their puppies from some type of infection. One breeder in my area lost 32 puppies from four bitches, managing to save only one puppy that was stunted in growth and never grew to proper size. All these puppies were lost within the space of a few months.

After learning of this, I decided I would be foolish not to take advantage of the availability of antibiotics that could prevent my bitch from having a disease she could pass on to her puppies. Following my usual procedure, I took her and the newborn puppies to my veterinarian the following morning. When he was finished examining her and the puppies, he pronounced them in excellent condition. I asked him if he didn't think it would be wise to give the bitch some type of antibiotic and he said, "No, ma'am, I don't see any reason for it,. Of course, I respect my veterinarian and his knowledge, so I didn't argue with him. And the ten healthy puppies grew rapidly and strong with no problems at all. The following litter I asked the same question and received the same reply. In the preceding months I had known breeders who had lost either all or most of their puppies, and I will admit I fretted silently when my veterinarian refused to administer an antibiotic which I felt could prevent any trouble cropping up.

I was fortunate again, however not to have any problems and my puppies grew fat and healthy and saucy.

Several of those breeders who were losing their puppies to this terrible fading puppy syndrome were friends of mine. I listened sympathetically to them as they tried to figure a reason for the loss of their puppies. Ironically, as you will see later, they decided that some bacteria was getting into their puppies' stomachs, so they placed the blame on themselves, feeling they had not been quite as antiseptic with the whelping quarters as perhaps they could have been.

The next time, I watched them scrub everything as diligently as it would be had it been a hospital delivery room, and then a few days before going to delivery, they scrubbed her stomach with an antiseptic soap and water and thoroughly rinsed it.

They took the extra precaution of seeing that the scissors to be used for severing the navel cord were sterilized in the event of infection getting in through the navel. And, for added protection, they gave their bitch the antibiotic shot after the whelping and followed this with the same in pill form. In spite of all this precaution, they still continued to lose their puppies, In fact, some had become so discouraged they were ready to quit the breeding of dogs.

Apparently, from what I have been able to learn, most veterinarians have been mystified by this fading puppy syndrome. No doubt in most cases they are consulted after the puppies are in the final stages and so near death nothing else could be done to save them even had there been time to attempt a diagnosis. Also, most of our veterinarians have a very busy practice and they cannot waste time on dead puppies when there are so many live animals that need their care.

One day, however I was reading through some old 1967 issues of the American Kennel Gazette and I ran across an article under the Labrador column that attracted my attention immediately. A dentist, Mr., Daniel S, Grayson, who breeds Labradors as a hobby, reported that he had lost two litters, eighteen puppies in all, to this fading puppy syndrome. In his article he said that he went the entire route, under competent veterinary advice in an effort to save the puppies, including tube feeding, subcutaneous dextrose and saline, and antibiotics administered both by injection and orally into the digestive tract to no avail. He had autopsies made on the dead puppies at the Ohio State University Pathology Institute in an effort to diagnose the disease causing the death of the puppies. He said the autopsies had failed to reveal any bacterial infection. But there was one significant find - THERE WAS NO BACTERIA OF ANY DESCRIPTION FOUND IN THE PUPPIES When he received this report, Dr Grayson said he began to wonder if perhaps his fading puppy syndrome was not being caused by the antibiotic being transmitted in the bitch's milk to the puppies and sterilizing their digestive tracts.

Every living thing has a normal intestinal bacteria known as Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is vital to the well-being of the living creature, and Dr Grayson explained if it is destroyed at any time and is not replaced in the digestive tract, then serious complications will occur.

He reported that when the next litter arrived he suspended the antibiotic therapy to the bitch to stop the transmission of the antibiotic through the milk to the puppies and then he administered live Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria to the bitch and the puppies. The bitch, by the way was one that had lost her previous litter to the disease. He said he also gave the bitch a milk supplement containing an enormous dose of vitamin B-l because he knew that normal intestinal bacteria need certain food substances to grown on and vitamin B-l is one of them.

Dr Grayson reported that the entire litter survived. After reading this article, I immediately called my veterinarian and asked him if he thought the injection of an antibiotic into a bitch could kill the necessary bacteria in the puppies that was needed in their digestive tracts for survival. His reply was, "Yes, ma'am, it surely could. That's why I don't believe in giving antibiotics indiscriminately"

Thinking back over the many litters I had seen die and remembering the words of the breeders: " I gave my bitch antibiotics and still the puppies came down with this disease," I began to see the light Although the article in the Gazette was a report on only one litter, still it did make sense this could be the cause for the fading puppy syndrome, or at least one of the causes. No doubt our veterinarians are possibly aware of the free dispensary of antibiotics some breeders engage in, and because of this they have been unable to understand why the puppies die.

I decided to pass this information onto other breeders, so I wrote my findings in an article for another magazine. I immediately received a letter from a breeder who had read it. Her letter brought out some interesting points and I would like to pass them on.

She wrote she was familiar with post whelping infections since one of her bitches invariably retains an afterbirth and she gives ergot to keep her open and draining plus antibiotics - but she emphasized NEVER penicillin. This breeder said personally she would not consider whelping a litter without Lactonoc in her refrigerator. Lactonoc is Norden Laboratories' trade name of Lactobacillus acidophilus. She explained she removed the brown covering on the capsules and dumped the contents in cold, sterile water and since it is difficult to dissolve, she administered it with a medicine dropper "Once on the tongue, nature takes over " she said. Using the 300-milligram capsule, she recommended giving one-half of a capsule to each puppy as soon as whelping is over and a second one-half capsule in twelve hours. With the bitch that invariably gets an infection that requires antibiotics, she said the puppies continue to nurse and the antibiotics being given to the bitch do not damage them in any way.

The breeder then gave three case histories of whelping which I feel are worth quoting in part: In the first litter the puppies developed severe diarrhea which, she said, she later realized was caused because she administered penicillin to the bitch. Her veterinarian gave them Lactonoc, and within eight hours they had perfect stools and were shiningly healthy. They were still bouncing at three weeks and no running eyes, no signs of worms. The bitch had never checked out with worms, she said, yet the 21-day worm check showed coccidiosis and rounds. Both were cleared up with worm pill and sulfa without the puppies ever having anything worse than several days of loose stools. She told me she was going into these details because she felt it was vital for the breeder to realize the administration of Lactonoc sets up a favorable digestive system so much that it temporarily masks potential serious parasitic problems but does not cure them. However the puppies enjoyed good health, she said, until the third, fourth or fifth week stage when worming or other treatment is relatively safe.

With the second litter she did not administer an antibiotic but did give the Lactonoc to the puppies and she had no problems, then, she said, with the third litter there was only one extremely healthy bitch puppy, so she deliberately omitted the acidophilus and on the third day the puppy apparently decided to die - it had a distended stomach and started crying with pain. She explained she gave the puppy the bacteria plus crushed milk of magnesia tablets and walked the floor all night with her The puppy lived, but she said she would never put another puppy through that again. To quote her "I'm just going to give this darling little stuff to every new born puppy in our house."

Putting two and two together, I reasoned conscientious breeders who do give antibiotics without also giving Lactobacillus acidophilus could actually be killing their puppies. Two breeders, friends of mine, each had a litter of puppies only days apart, Both bitches unfortunately developed an infection, These breeders are among those who administer antibiotics, hookworm shots and other various medications to their dogs themselves instead of consulting their veterinarians. Consequently they started giving heavy doses of antibiotics to their bitches immediately. there were eight puppies in one litter and twelve in the other. Within a few days, the breeder with eight puppies noticed they were crying with what seemed to be colic and they refused to nurse and were getting weak. When she called me about it, I told her what I thought the problem might be, She rushed the puppies to her veterinarian and explained what she had done, With this knowledge to go on, her veterinarian prescribed the Lactobacillus acidophilus and recommended she take the puppies away from the bitch for 24 hours and hand feed them, She reported after the administration of the first one-half capsule of the bacteria to the puppies it was as if a miracle was taking place. The puppies stopped crying, became hungry and nursed vigorously from a baby bottle, After 24 hours she put them back on the dam but continued to give the Lactobacillus acidophilus plus supplements of buttermilk, which also has bacteria in it, and vitamins, and they thrived.

I have had many people wishing to know how to give this bacteria, and I would like to set down here the information for all to have on record. The bacteria can be obtained from your druggist under the name of Lactinox, as stated in the above article, It comes in capsules and also in a box of twelve packets, with each packet containing a gram of the Lactobacillus acidophilus. I used the packets. Each gram is 1,000 milligrams and you want to give each 300 milligrams every twelve hours. Here is how to mix it for this ratio.

Mix one packet (1,000 milligrams) in two tablespoons of cool, sterile water It is not easy to mix and must be stirred for some time to dissolve it. One teaspoonful of this mixture is equal to 150 milligrams, So give each puppy two teaspoonfuls with an eye dropper or as I did, with tube feeding. 1, perhaps, gave my pups an extra boost because I mixed the 300 milligrams with five cc's of Enfamil with iron and tube fed this. I could do all seven puppies in less than five minutes.

On the advice of my veterinarian, I also gave the bitch the Lactinox, She was given one-half of a packet of 500 milligrams every twelve hours. This can be sprinkled in the bitch's food if she is eating well or as I did, obtain some large capsules from your veterinarian and divide the packet into two capsules. She received the Lactinox and the puppies received the Lactinox for the five days she was on antibiotics plus two days after she had completed her treatment. This is necessary apparently because the antibiotic remains active for at least 36 hours after the final dose.

Note by Erma:
The preceding article came into my possession at a time when I was having problems with a litter of puppies - as I only have about two litters in a year I found it very disheartening to lose any one of them, and there seemed to be no reason for it. Having read the article, I showed it to my veterinary surgeon, who was very interested in the theory and agreed to find Lactinox for me. This created a great problem. It is an American product and not available in Great Britain, but one of the big drug houses came back with the information that the product which was almost identical was in fact NATURAL YOGURT. It must be NATURAL yogurt; that with fruit in etc., in it is not good at all, as the fruit counteracts the beneficial effects.

I then remembered that if a human is given any of the penicillin drugs it is a recognized fact that diarrhea is aside effect within a couple of days, and yogurt is usually given to patients to counteract this, So I bought one carton of natural yogurt, gave a teaspoonful to each puppy and miracles happened: within a couple of days they were recovering. As a recognized practice , we had been taking the bitch to the veterinary surgeon (or he visited) as soon as she whelped, for the usual shots, including antibiotics. My vet then decided to forego any antibiotic injections following whelping in the future and reported to me that all was well.

As things have moved on since 1981, you can also use Actimel or similar products that contain active cultures. I read this before my first litter and raised all of them with Yogurt added to their food, it can not hurt! I never had problems…. Touch wood!

Reprinted with kind permission from Georgie Lawrence

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Fading Puppy Syndrome

By Samantha Goldberg B.V.Sc., B.Sc.(Hons.) MRCVS

Fading puppy syndrome is a clinical description used to cover many infectious and non-infectious causes of puppies which result in death within the first two weeks of life. The puppies are born of good average birth weight and gradually lose the suckling reflex, become inactive and die. Most mortality occurs during the first 3.5 to 5 days of life and should be investigated as some have a preventable cause whereas others yield no helpful diagnosis. Losses of puppies up to weaning average around 12% with more than 65% at whelping and during the first week of life, few puppies die after 3 weeks. Congenital defects probably account for around 1-2% of deaths with some being hereditary and other defects of development.
Non-infectious causes include problems with thermoregulation, dehydration, hypoglycaemia and immune system immaturity. These four areas are noted as the newly born puppy's most vulnerable points. At birth the puppy has a body temperature of 35.5ºC (96ºF) rising to 38ºC (100.5ºF) by day 7. An attentive mother will keep the puppies warm enough as they stay within the environment of the mammary gland but a bitch with a large litter or one who is tired after a protracted whelping may not keep all the puppies close by her. Shivering starts at day 6-8 and the puppy is more able to generate it own body heat. Dehydration can occur very quickly if the puppy does not feed little and often. Kidney function is initially very immature and cannot efficiently retain water. This is why hand reared puppies should receive frequent small feeds.

 Hypoglycaemia is a low blood sugar. The puppy is born with only a small reserve and must feed soon to replenish this. Hypoglycaemia results in a sluggish puppy with a poor sucking reflex.

Birth weight should double within the first 10 days and regular weight gains should occur from day 1-the use of fine kitchen scales helps with large litters which may have more competition for teats. The importance of gaining the first milk-colostrum cannot be overstressed. The puppy gets 5% of its maternal antibody across the placenta and 95% from colostrum which must be taken within 12-24 hours. If a bitch has a protracted labour it is important the first puppies born get to suckle (this also helps with natural oxytocin release which stimulates further uterine contractions).

Fading puppies typically show poor sucking reflex, lethargy or unusual restlessness with a plaintive cry. The normal puppy spends long periods in deep sleep interrupted by body twitching which disappears after 4 weeks. Loss of this pattern indicates ill health. The belly should be rounded but not gassy sounding and the coat sleek. The urination and defecation reflex is activated by the mother licking and an unkempt coat indicates poor mothering.

Investigation of fading puppies shows low body weight and an empty stomach and intestinal tract. The body should be kept chilled not frozen for the vet to investigate as this makes it easier to get meaningful samples for infectious disease and to check for structural abnormalities. Some work has suggested these puppies may have a problem with lung surfactant a substance implicated in sudden death syndrome in infants but this is not proven.

Infectious causes of dying puppies include bacteria, viruses and parasites. Flea infestation may be heavy enough to result in severe anaemia which occasionally results in death. There are products licensed to use on puppies two days old and other for use on the dam for control which may be safely used. Worm burdens may be sufficiently high to cause obstruction of the small intestine. It is worth remembering that roundworm larvae can cross the placenta and are transmitted in milk. The type of wormer used during pregnancy should be carefully considered as not all will stop migration of larvae into the puppies. Toxoplasma infection is a rare cause of problems. There is a public health risk as it may cause problems in pregnant women too. Other rare causes include Giardia and Coccidia protozoan parasites which can both cause diarrhoea and Neospora which can cause hind limb paralysis at 5-6 weeks.

Bacteria are often isolated from post mortems but their role is not always clear. There have been reports of septicaemia causing death or poor weight gain. Antibiotics should be used with care as they can upset the natural developing gut microflora. Brucella canis is not present in the UK at the moment but anyone involved in breeding with dogs from other countries should become aware of it. It may cause abortion, stillbirths or rarely weak live puppies. Bordatella bronchiseptica (the most common UK cause of kennel cough) was implicated in one litter which I have seen but has definitely been shown to be a problem in kittens. Exposure of in whelp bitches to coughing dogs should be avoided. The syndrome “Kennel Cough” included many infectious diseases and most manifest in the same way so unless the diagnosis is conclusive one should be keep coughing dogs isolated from other dogs.

Viral infections are an uncommon cause of fading puppies with most occurring as maternal immunity starts to drop at 5-6 weeks. Canine Herpes Virus (CHV) is the most common of the viral infections to cause problems. The outcome from infection depends on the time of gestation the bitch is infected. In early pregnancy there may be abortion but infection middle to later on in gestation will result in puppy death and mummification. Infection in late pregnancy results in premature whelping and weak puppies showing abdominal pain and continual crying. Puppies may take several days to die and even last a few weeks. Most bitches will seroconvert which means they develop an immunity to the virus however if they are bred from again they and any kennel mates should be vaccinated with the new CHV vaccine. At the time of infection they may also be a source of infection to other kennel members and should be isolated from other pregnant bitches. It may be possible for some bitches to become carriers and shed the virus at times of stress so consideration should be made to whether it is wise to breed from some a bitch again. Be aware that CHV is one of the Kennel Cough collection and the symptoms are not definitive in non pregnant dogs.
Canine parvovirus is less common except in colostrum deprived puppies when it can cause fatal heart problems. It is possible for canine distemper virus to cross the placenta causing neurological signs at 4-6 weeks of age but it may also cause abortion, stillbirths or fading puppies depending on the stage of gestation the dam is infected. Puppies which survive may have severe damage to their teeth enamel and a permanently poor immune system.

Prevention of infectious causes of early puppy death involve keeping a clean environment-runs should be kept clean (particularly important for disease such as Giardia and Coccidia) and regular use of wormers will reduce the problem of parasite burdens and environmental contamination. Vaccination prevents the problems of viral disease and there is a new vaccine available for Canine herpes Virus to be given during pregnancy as well as vaccines for Canine Parvovirus and Distemper. For people who are concerned about over vaccination it may be helpful to talk to your own vet about the levels of disease in your area and the use of antibody titres to check the immunity level in your dogs. Work has been done to show many dogs do not require all of the components of vaccines every year and some companies now produce vaccines for alternate year use.

To summarise it is always helpful to keep records of any neonatal losses and the cause of death if known. There are some obvious causes such as overlaying in anxious or inexperienced bitches and these are often not preventable. Losing one puppy in a large litter is a common occurrence and one may find no cause but when multiple losses occur determining the cause can help prevent losses with future litters.
Meanwhile the health monitoring of our breed continues and if anyone wishes to contact me you may use email

reprinted with kind permission from Sam Goldberg

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Homeopathy and the Fading Puppy
Fading Puppy Syndrome
Do You Know the Signs
Failure to Thrive
Fading Puppy Syndrome

chloebutton  talabutton  

The above information is simply informational. It's intent is not to replace the advice of a veterinarian nor to assist you in making a diagnosis of your pet. Please consult with your own veterinarian for confirmation of any diagnosis. Your pets life may depend on it.