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Fading Puppy Syndrome

Fading puppy syndrome is a sad subject to write about. I begin with good news to inject a positive note…

Fading puppy syndrome is a sad subject to write about. I begin with good news to inject a positive note into an otherwise heartbreaking condition.

Bongo, an adorable 6-month-old Australian Shepherd, is alive and thriving! That’s GREAT news! Bongo belongs to Holiday Barn Pet Resorts‘ Pet Care Manager, Mary.  He struggled with fading puppy syndrome but is now the picture of health. You would never know that he had a difficult start in life. Thanks to his breeder’s loving and diligent care, Bongo is now happy, active, and living his best life.

Yes, there is always hope.

What Is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Fading puppy syndrome (FPS) is the name given to describe neonatal puppies that appear normal at birth, but quickly die, or “fade” within the first few weeks of life. The reasons for fading puppy syndrome are not 100% understood, however since newborn puppies have limited development, immature immune systems, and an inability to regulate their body temperature, they can be vulnerable to illness. If the reason for death isn’t immediately apparent, such as a congenital malformation, newborn puppies must be closely monitored to detect any developing problems. Urgent medical care will be necessary to increase the puppy’s chance of survival.

Common symptoms in fading puppies are low birth rate, decreased movement, and an inability to nurse. These symptoms are caused by a variety of elements, including complications at birth, hypoglycemia, and other factors which we will discuss below. Veterinarians have been able to narrow the reasons for fading puppy syndrome into three practical causes: Environmental, genetic or congenital, or infectious agents.

What Type Of Environmental Causes Could There Be For Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Since newborn puppies cannot regulate their body temperature, they can easily become chilled. Puppies rely on their mother’s heat or huddling with their siblings to keep them warm. A puppy’s normal temperature should be between 98 and 99 degrees. If the puppy’s body temperature falls below 94 degrees, it is hypothermic. The puppy will lose its nursing reflex, and its heart rate will decrease rapidly.

Hyperthermia, meaning the puppy is too warm, is not as common. However, it has been known to occur in warmer climates.

Newborn puppies are sensitive to everything, whether it’s the air they breathe or something they come into contact with. Environmental causes for fading puppy syndrome could be as simple as the detergent that their bedding was washed in, to what their bedding is made of.

Believe it or not, there can be maternal causes for FPS. The puppy’s mom, or dam, could carry an infectious agent (bacterial or viral), or otherwise be in poor health, and likewise, produce low-quality milk. For reasons not always clear to us, the mother may not wish to nurse or warm the puppy, especially if the puppy was born by a cesarean section.

Genetic Causes For Fading Puppy Syndrome

As we mentioned previously, congenital malformation, or birth defects, are obvious causes of FPS. Cleft palates and cardiovascular defects are sometimes observed, as well.

According to one source, certain breeds are more likely to lose puppies to fading puppy syndrome than others. Obviously, every dog breed has its particular genetic composition, and unfortunately, genetic disorders do exist in some breeds. For example, breeds such as the Pug, Shih Tzu, and Pekingese have brachycephalic faces, a genetic anomaly naturally passed on to their puppies. But whether some breeds are more susceptible to the development of FPS is questionable.

Low birth weight may also be a factor. Fading puppy syndrome often affects the “runt” of the litter. Because their position in the uterus precludes them from accessing adequate nutrition, runts are born small. The lack of essential nutrition gives the puppy less of a chance to thrive physiologically.

Infectious Agents As A Cause For Fading Puppy Syndrome

As mentioned, newborn puppies have not yet developed a strong immune system. A weak immune system makes them vulnerable to infection and parasites. A lot of a puppy’s immunity is passed on through the dam’s colostrum (first milk) when they begin to nurse. Colostrum contains white blood cells that produce antibodies, which help to defend against infection. If the puppy does not get enough of the first milk, it is susceptible to infection.

Bacterial infection and septicemia are common causes of death in puppies. E-coli, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and herpesvirus are sometimes referred to as The Big Four – the most common bacterial infections behind early neonatal death. Bacterial infections are sometimes passed from the dam to the puppy through maternal secretions. The dam could also have a viral infection that is transmitted to the puppy. Viral infections, such as parvovirus, canine distemper, and adenovirus have been suspected as reasons for FPS.

Septicemia is more widely known as sepsis. Sepsis is a bacterial infection in the bloodstream. It is sometimes called blood poisoning. If the body cannot fight off the bacteria in the bloodstream, it can get worse and turn into Septicemia (Sepsis). Sepsis requires aggressive treatment. As in the case of our little Bongo, he contracted sepsis at only three days old and required a blood transfusion.

Parasites, like fleas and ticks, can take essential blood and nutrients from the growing puppy. When this happens, the puppies fail to gain weight and will die.

Final Thoughts About Fading Puppy Syndrome

There is so much more to FPS. If you are expecting puppies in the near future, please do your research. Our purpose is simply to inform you that the condition exists and what to look for if your dog has puppies. As FPS does not always occur instantly at birth, puppies should be closely monitored during the first three weeks of their life. Any abnormalities must be identified and treated immediately. The sooner you notice the signs and contact your veterinarian, the greater your chances are of saving your puppy.

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