Early Death in Puppies

4 min read

Fading Syndrome (Neonatal Mortality) in Puppies

Newborn puppies are born with an immature immune system that needs to be built up over time, starting with their mother's milk. Because of their immature body organs and systems, puppies are prone to various insults, including infections and environmental, nutritional, and metabolic factors. Also, young animals do not yet have strong body temperature regulation, and their body temperature can fluctuate profoundly in response to changing environmental temperatures and humidity. Glucose control may also be poor, and blood glucose levels may fall below normal ranges in cases of nutritional disturbances, leading to a state of hypoglycemia. Neonatal mortality, or fading syndrome, involves the death of puppies from birth to two weeks of age. This syndrome is more common in pedigree puppies.

Symptoms and Types

  • Weakness
  • Low birth weight
  • Loss of weight
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Decreased activity
  • Poor appetite
  • Constant vocalizations and restless in early phase, but puppy may become inactive and quiet in later stages
  • Straying away from the dam and rest of the litter
  • Diarrhea
  • Low body temperature


Dam (mother)-related

  • Difficult birth or prolonged labor
  • Problems with milk letdown
  • Injury
  • Inadequate nutrition


  • Temperature and humidity extremes
  • Poor sanitation

Pup related

  • Congenital defects
  • Infections


You will need to give a thorough history of your puppy's health, including a background history of symptoms and any background information you have regarding your puppy's parentage. After taking a complete history, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination. Laboratory tests will include a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis.

Blood testing may reveal anemia, changes in leukocyte (white blood cells, WBC) counts, including an abnormally low number of platelets (the cells responsible for blood clotting) and an increase in the number of white blood cells, which is what is usually seen in infections. A biochemistry profile may indicate abnormally low levels of glucose (hypoglycemia) along with other changes, depending on which organs are being the most affected. The urinalysis may indicate the presence of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells, in the urine. It may also show bacteria present in the urine, indicating an infection of the urinary tract. More specific testing would include isolating the virus or bacteria from various body fluids. Your veterinarian will also conduct a fecal examination to test for the presence of parasites.

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