What is fading puppy syndrome? Vet answers all of your questions

Newborn puppy sleeping
(Image credit: Alexandra Jursova/Getty Images)

Fading puppy syndrome is when newborn pups die in the early stages of their life - usually up to the first two weeks. If your dog is pregnant and you’re expecting a litter of puppies, then it’s important to be aware of this condition and know the signs.

As all pet parents will know, there are a lot of things to prepare before welcoming a new fur baby into your life (especially when there’s a whole litter). From selecting the best puppy toys to ensuring they have the best puppy food - the list might feel endless. However, we’ve put together a guide on bringing home a puppy for the first time to help you along the way. 

Newborn puppies require lots of care and unfortunately, complications can happen after birth - even if the mother has had a healthy pregnancy and labor. If you want to learn more about this condition, like what the causes and symptoms are, then keep on reading. We asked vet Dr Hannah Godfrey some of the questions you may have, including whether it can be treated or not: 

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.

What is fading puppy syndrome?

Fading puppy syndrome is when very young puppies fail to thrive or suddenly become very unwell. Because they are so small, struggle to maintain their body temperature, and have weak immune systems, puppies can go downhill very quickly, becoming severely unwell. Sadly, many puppies with fading puppy syndrome do not survive.

Symptoms of fading puppy syndrome

Fading puppy syndrome can affect puppies who have failed to thrive since birth, like the so-called ‘runt’, but it can also affect puppies who were previously growing well and appearing very healthy. 

When a pup begins to fade you might notice they’re not gaining much weight and they’re not feeding from their mother or moving around much. 

They might get left behind a lot so you might spot they’re often on their own, calling from their mom. 

Their production of urine and feces might reduce, and they’ll soon become severely unwell, cool to the touch, lethargic, weak, and immobile. Unfortunately, once your pup starts showing signs of fading puppy syndrome, they are unlikely to survive.

At what age can fading puppy syndrome occur?

Fading puppy syndrome occurs in very young puppies, usually up to two weeks old. Once they reach two weeks old, the chances of fading puppy syndrome are reduced because the pups are becoming stronger both in terms of mobility and immunity. 

However, until a puppy is fully weaned and vaccinated, there is still a risk of rapid deterioration in health due to infection or poor nutrition. 

Female dog nursing her pups

(Image credit: Chalabala/Getty Images)

Causes of fading puppy syndrome

There are lots of factors that can contribute to fading puppy syndrome. Firstly, if a pup hasn’t had much colostrum (first milk) from their mother, their weak immune system won’t have the tools it needs to protect them from infection. 

Similarly, if the puppy doesn’t feed well from their mother, they won’t have the energy reserves to fight infection and they might not be able to keep up with their mum, meaning they’ll get cold and even more hungry. The pup may find that they miss out if they are naturally slower or smaller, which could mean they have a birth defect or congenital illness. 

Of course, it may not be an issue with the pup that causes them not to receive the care they need from their mother. Sometimes female dogs will reject puppies due to stress, poor mothering ability, or being young themselves.

How to treat fading puppy syndrome

There is no specific treatment for fading puppy syndrome, partly because it’s usually due to a combination of causes, but also because by the time symptoms are noted, the condition is usually rapidly fatal. 

However, supportive treatment and nursing care can be used in early cases. This includes keeping the pup warm in a blanket or on a head pat and using rehydrating fluids either via a drip or injected under the skin or into the abdominal cavity. 

Sometimes, antibiotics are prescribed in case of an infectious cause. It’s very important to contact a veterinarian as soon as you notice any signs that your pup isn't quite right because they can deteriorate so quickly.

Frisco Adjustable Electrical Dog & Cat Heated Crate Mat with Timer

Frisco Adjustable Electrical Dog & Cat Heated Crate Mat with Timer

If your pup has fading puppy syndrome, we recommend investing in a heated mat to keep them warm. This adjustable option features two heat settings and a timer, giving you full control. 

Can a fading puppy be saved?

Sadly, fading puppy syndrome is usually fatal. However, if it’s caught early and intensive treatment started, pups do occasionally survive. 

This is why it’s so crucial to get an appointment at the veterinary clinic as soon as you notice something’s wrong. If the worst should happen and your poorly pup seems to be fading quickly, you might be wondering how to give a puppy CPR. 

Remember, puppies affected by fading puppy syndrome are so tiny, that the act of CPR may cause more damage. However, using just your thumb and index finger on either side of their chest and pinching rhythmically can mimic the heart’s pumping action. You can do this while making urgent contact with a veterinarian for advice. 

Newborn puppy being held

(Image credit: carlofranco/Getty Images)

How to prevent fading puppy syndrome

Puppies need colostrum, warmth, good nutrition, and good hygiene. However, even if you know exactly how to care for newborn puppies, Fading Puppy Syndrome can still happen. 

Although it’s very sad and seems unfair, it can be normal for a small percentage of healthy puppies to fade. That being said, it’s still very important to seek advice from a vet if you lose any puppies, in case something is underlying.

If you breed your dog, you want everything to go smoothly. Fading puppy syndrome can be stressful and upsetting. 

As long as you strive to ensure that your dog’s litter has the best care possible, and you check them regularly for signs that they’re not thriving, you’re doing all you can to keep them well.

For more puppy content, check out these features: five signs your dog is in heat, how to tell if a dog is pregnant and how long is a dog pregnant.  

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet who graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2011 and began work straight away at a busy mixed practice. Initially, she treated all species, but focussed on small animals from 2014. She has a passion for soft tissue surgery, ultrasound, and canine and feline dentistry, having completed additional training in these areas.