Early Death in Puppies

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 30, 2009

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.


In cases where a neonate is presenting with a low body temperature, the veterinarian will slowly warm the puppy to a normal body temperature over several hours to avoid shocking its system. Oxygen supplementation will be given if required, and intravenous fluid therapy will be initiated to correct fluid deficits.

In cases with low glucose levels in the blood (hypoglycemia), fluids with glucose will be selected for fluid therapy. The puppy will not be allowed to feed if its body temperature is significantly lower than normal and it has no suckling reflex; however, once it has been warmed, nursing will be encouraged. Antibiotic therapy will be started in the event that there is a bacterial infections present.

Living and Management

Do not attempt to feed your puppy at home if the puppy is not sucking properly at its mother's teat. Check your pupy daily for its hydration status by checking its urine color and looking into its mouth for evidence of dryness. Dry mouth and dark yellow urine will indicate that your puppy is dehydrated. If this is the case you will need to call your veterinarian for advice. Also monitor your puppy's weight daily, and ensure that the dam (mother) is properly nursing the puppies. Good home care will give your puppy the best chance of healing quickly and effectively.

It is essential that you follow all guidelines to ensure proper medication and feeding at home. Do not stop or alter the treatment on your own or change the dosage times. It is especially important to give medications at the exact prescribed dosage and time because at this immature stage, animals have great variations in drug metabolism and excretion. Even minor changes in drug dosage can be detrimental to your puppy's recovery. Your puppy will also need extra care regarding its nutrition due to its delicate requirements and inability to feed properly on its own.

Patients with low glucose levels will need extra care, and will need to be fed at a prescribed time of day, and at a frequency that is specific to your puppy's breed, age and size requirements.

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