Fading puppy syndrome: What is it and can it be treated?

Fading puppy syndrome
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is fading puppy syndrome and can it be treated? If your dog is expecting, or you’re planning a litter of puppies, you’re bound to have some questions. 

From identifying the signs of heat so you know when to mate your dog, to finding out whether your dog is pregnant, there’s lots to learn. 

But, although it’s important to know what to expect during your dog’s pregnancy, the challenge doesn’t end there. Even once the puppies have arrived, there can still be complications and they need lots of care. 

Sadly, even a healthy pregnancy and labor can be followed by the loss of one or more puppies. This is often referred to as fading puppy syndrome. 

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. 

pregnant dog lying on floor

(Image credit: 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.

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.

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. 

Four days old puppy

(Image credit: 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.

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.