Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs

Eduarda Piamore
By Eduarda Piamore, Expert in canine and feline psychology, education and training.. March 26, 2023
Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs

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Around 25% of newborn puppies every year die as a consequence of something known as fading puppy syndrome. As it is a syndrome, it is not a specific disease. It is a range of symptoms which creates a complex clinical picture. Unfortunately, the nature of this syndrome is that many of these puppies die due to unknown reasons. As their immune system is still in development, newborn puppies are particularly susceptible to various threats to their organism. These can include infection, parasites and other pathogens. Various environmental factors can also influence the death of a puppy. Some of these are something that dog guardians can influence.

At AnimalWised, we look into greater detail at the signs of fading puppy syndrome in dogs. We understand what factors influence this complex, as well as what methods of prevention we can use to stop it happening to your puppies.

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  1. What is fading puppy syndrome in dogs?
  2. Possible causes of fading puppy syndrome
  3. Pathogenic and environmental causes of fading puppy syndrome
  4. Genetic and congenital causes of fading puppy syndrome
  5. Signs of fading puppy syndrome
  6. Treatment of fading puppy syndrome in dogs
  7. Prevention of fading puppy syndrome

What is fading puppy syndrome in dogs?

The neonatal period of puppies is considered the first two weeks after they are born. During this time, they are particularly vulnerable. Dogs are altricial species. Unlike some animals that can fend for themselves after birth, dogs are born relatively immature and rely on their mothers for everything. They have to be guided to suckle and their mother even helps them to defecate as they have trouble doing so on their own.

Immaturity during the neonatal stage affects their physical, cognitive, sensory, emotional and immunological processes. This is even more acute during the first 24 hours after birth. In many cases, there may be a puppy in a litter which is smaller and weaker than the others. They are known as the runt and may be the last to be born, but not always. These puppies are often particularly vulnerable, but all puppies in a litter can be affected by fading puppy syndrome.

As stated in the introduction, fading puppy syndrome is not a disease. It is a set of symptoms which results in the death of the young dog. This is considered a failure to thrive (FTT). Some puppies will have a better chance than others, but it is difficult to determine which are stronger when they are first born.

Fading puppy system occurs most frequently during the first few days of life[1]. Since a lowered immune system is a trait of newborn puppies, they do not have the natural defenses required to combat various life-threatening situations. The risk of fading puppy syndrome decreases as they age and their immune system strengthens. It can occur up to around 10 weeks of age.

Low neonatal immunity makes newborns especially vulnerable to various physiological and environmental conditions. Their already fragile health can be easily weakened by contact with parasites, various pathologies and even environmental factors such as heat, cold or wind. This explains why puppies die after being born, thanks to the rapid progression of the complex symptomatology characteristic of fading puppy syndrome.

Possible causes of fading puppy syndrome

Also known as fading puppy complex, the cause of fading puppy syndrome is usually unknown. This is largely because the puppy's death is not investigated. Some may have an inherited or congenital genetic condition which creates a lowered immunity, but all newborn puppies will be in an immunologically weakened state.

Although we often don't know the direct cause of fading puppy syndrome, we do know there are certain mitigating factors. One of the most important is related to the feeding of newborn puppies. After they are delivered, puppies will have their first feed from their mother. This feed is a type of milk known as colostrum.

Within colostrum are a number of bioactive compounds which give the puppy various benefits and the main source of immunity for the newly delivered pups. This is due to the antibody content of the first milk. Puppies which do not receive this first feeding are at a significant disadvantage and are much more vulnerable to pathogens. This can occur due to the mother not feeding her puppies.

In a general sense, we can say the contributing factors to fading puppy syndrome are the following:

  • Genetic inheritance
  • Congenital problems during gestation
  • Lactation issues
  • Lack of care from mother
  • Hygiene
  • Pathogens

Many of deaths of newborn puppies are due to a combination of these factors. The mother knows her puppies are vulnerable and will need to behave accordingly. For this reason, she will create a nest to give birth and will be very attentive to them. If the mother does not meet her responsibilities, it can increase the risk of fading puppy syndrome.

Not all these factors are under the mother's control. The guardians should also provide a hygienic and stress-free space for the mother to give birth and raise her pups. Since the syndrome can be quite complex, we will need to contact a veterinarian if we see any signs of failing health. The vulnerability of puppies means they can die relatively quickly, so it is always best not to hesitate.

Learn more about how to prepare for the arrival of puppies with our article on the signs a dog is about to give birth.

Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs - Possible causes of fading puppy syndrome

Pathogenic and environmental causes of fading puppy syndrome

There are some pathogenic or environmental issues which can influence fading puppy syndrome. They include:

  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Dehydration
  • Viral pathologies (e.g. distemper, parvovirus and neonatal herpesvirus)
  • Digestive system malformation
  • Omphalophlebitis (inflammation of the umbilical veins)
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory disease
  • Intestinal parasite infestation (most common is larval ascariasis)
  • Bacterial infections and neonatal sepsis

Genetic and congenital causes of fading puppy syndrome

Other mitigating factors of fading puppy syndrome include those which affect the mother or which are passed on to the puppies after birth. They include:

  • Hypoxia (poor oxygenation during labor)
  • Congenital or hereditary malformations (such as cleft palate)
  • Maternal hypogalactia (deficient low milk production)
  • Consumption of contaminated breast milk (bacteria, toxic substances or pathologies such as mastitis )
  • Postpartum behavior problems (depression,lack of interest in puppies, rejection , etc.)

If a puppy is not given the correct nutrition, they will not survive. In some cases, the mother may be unable to provide milk. In these cases, we will need to provide sustenance ourselves, sometimes in the form of homemade newborn puppy formula.

Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs - Genetic and congenital causes of fading puppy syndrome

Signs of fading puppy syndrome

It is important to reaffirm that the signs of the fading puppy syndrome are complex. They are usually non-specific symptoms and develop rapidly. This development will result in a general decline in their health which is described as ‘fading’. Although this condition can happen up to around 10 weeks of age, symptoms usually first appear between 72 and 96 hours of life.

The main signs of fading puppy syndrome in dogs include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Seizures
  • Tiredness and apathy
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive crying or whimpering
  • Heart and respiratory failure
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Weakness from the 2nd day of life
  • Worsening of the hypoglycemia picture
  • Difficulty feeding

It is important to know that fading puppy syndrome is often recognized by the mother. If she suspects her young is weak or dying, she may start to eat her puppy. While this is an unpleasant notion, the mother is doing it to help care for the puppies she thinks have a better chance at living. Since puppies with fading puppy syndrome may have an infection, it also helps to protect the others from pathogens.

Treatment of fading puppy syndrome in dogs

When observing any sign of weakness, malnutrition or dehydration, we should contact the veterinary clinic. The same will occur if there are obvious behavioral changes. Although there is high mortality, the specialist may be able to determine a pathogenic cause or stabilize the puppy to help them fight the problem. If your puppy is fading quickly before you can reach a vet, you may be able to use emergency resuscitation to revive them.

At the veterinary clinic, the appropriate measures can be taken to combat the specific symptoms of each newborn and improve their weakness. These including the following interventions:

  • Oral or intravenous administration of glucose and/or electrolyte-rich serum to quickly improve dehydration and malnutrition.
  • Controlled intake of honey, according to the animal's weight and health condition to reverse hypoglycemia.
  • Body warming therapies, to prevent or treat the symptoms of hypothermia.
  • Oxygen therapy.
  • Internal deworming (if the presence of parasites in the animal's body is diagnosed).
  • Stomach pumping and artificial feeding in case of diagnosing that breast milk is contaminated.
Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs - Treatment of fading puppy syndrome in dogs

Prevention of fading puppy syndrome

Since the causes of fading puppy syndrome are usually undetermined or idiopathic, we cannot prevent their specific cause. However, we can best prevent this occurring due to the care we provide. Essentially, we can best prevent fading puppy syndrome in dogs by providing a good baseline of care. This will help to avoid the presence of pathogens or parasites which can cause the problem.

Some specific ways to preserve the good health of newborn puppies are the following:

  • Periodic visits to the vet from the beginning of the pregnancy onwards.
  • Respect the vaccination schedule and provide periodic deworming.
  • Keep the temperature and humidity of the home stable.
  • Monitor the behavior and daily habits of newborns and their mother.
  • Certify that all puppies are breastfed and can suckle properly.
  • Verify that the mother produces enough milk to nurse her pups.
  • Provide an adequate diet for the mother which takes into consideration her pregnancy.
  • Avoid stressful situations and exercise her appropriately.
  • Check the weight and size of the puppies daily to certify that they are growing properly.
  • Take the body temperature of the pups and the female daily.
  • Offer adequate preventive medicine for puppies throughout their lives.

Learn more about preventing harm to newborn dogs with our video guide below on caring for puppies:

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs, we recommend you visit our Prevention category.


1. Blunden, A. S., Hill, C. M., Brown, B. D., & Morley, C. J. (1987). Lung surfactant composition in puppies dying of fading puppy complex. Research in veterinary science, 42(1), 113–118.

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Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome in Dogs