Fading puppy syndrome - Neonatal Mortality
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Fading puppy syndrome - Neonatal Mortality

Dogs
Health & Safety

Puppies are cute, fun, warm, cuddly and entertaining, but they are of course also very fragile during their first few weeks of life, and do not have the same immunity and robust health that an adult dog has developed to help them to fend of illness and disease. As puppies grow and develop, their immune system grows with them, alongside of their size and weight, condition, and many other aspects of their physical development. It is unfortunate but reasonably common that within some litters, there may be a puppy or puppies that fail to thrive after a certain stage of development, and do not grow larger, develop, or eat enough, which can eventually lead to death.

What exactly is fading puppy syndrome?

Fading puppy syndrome can be difficult to definitively describe, as it is a catch-all title given to a wide variety of potential causes of death and ill health in young puppies. Various different illnesses and conditions can lead to fading puppies, including problems developed while in the womb or during delivery, infections or allergens acquired after the birth, inadequate immune system development, or not receiving enough food and/or nutrients.

Fading puppy syndrome presents in puppies under the age of 12 weeks old, and unless there is a clear and obvious alternative cause of death in any particular case, is the normal diagnosis given for young pups that become ill, fail to thrive, or die without any obvious triggering factor.

Puppies that fail to thrive and eventually succumb to fading puppy syndrome are sometimes referred to as ‘faders’.

What kind of puppies might contract fading puppy syndrome?

Any puppy may potentially develop fading puppy syndrome, and the condition manifests among the youngest puppies at less than 12 weeks of age. There are elevated risk factors for puppies born to a dam that had problems with the pregnancy, was malnourished or had a difficult delivery, and any puppies that do not begin to feed shortly after birth. Also, puppies that are exposed to potential sources of infection or illness before their immune systems have had a chance to fully develop are at a higher risk of contracting the condition than other puppies.

The ‘runt’ of the litter, if there is one, should be watched carefully, as should all puppies, to ensure that they are all feeding and developing normally.

Potential causes of fading puppy syndrome

Often, the root cause of fading puppy syndrome will not be known, but there are a range of risk factors and triggers for a failure to thrive and fading in puppies to watch out for.

  • Birth defects and developmental problems can lead to the condition, and genetic and hereditary health problems are sometimes more pronounced in certain pedigree breeds such as the Pug, a breed that sees a high incidence rate of fading puppy syndrome compared to most other breeds.
  • A poor or inadequate diet fed to the dam can lead to the puppies being malnourished, and more likely to develop the condition.
  • The delivery itself can be a risky time, and any puppies that have a particularly difficult delivery or that become injured during the process may be at risk.
  • The transmission of bacteria and viruses during nursing can lead to illnesses such as parvo and other conditions that the immune system of the puppy simply isn’t strong enough to fight off, which can lead to premature death.
  • Neglect by the dam can cause the puppy not to receive enough milk, which starts a vicious cycle of malnutrition and inability to nurse.
  • Poor sanitation or living in dirty and unsuitable conditions can have an adverse affect on the health and wellness of the pups.
  • Inability or unwillingness to nurse can lead to a downward spiral of fading.

Symptoms of fading puppy syndrome

The period between birth and 12 weeks of age is the highest risk period for puppies, and the age that produces the highest incidence rates of mortality in young dogs. Monitor your puppies closely during this time, in order to identify any problems promptly.

Symptoms to be alert for include:

  • A gradual decline after a normal healthy start to life, often immediately obvious by not growing and developing as fast as the other puppies in the litter.
  • Whining or crying a lot, and generally appearing restless and unhappy.
  • Keeping themselves apart from the rest of the litter and the dam for large parts of the time.
  • Not suckling, or having problems doing so.
  • Being rejected by the dam or neglected in favour of the other stronger pups.
  • Not being as active as the other pups.
  • Coldness or low temperature.
  • Listlessness and unresponsiveness.

Treatment and prognosis for puppies affected

Depending on the stage of fading and the age of the pup in question, sadly, it may be decided that treatment with a view to recovery is unlikely to prove successful. However, fading puppy syndrome can sometimes be successfully treated, under veterinary management.

Supplementary feeding, raising the body temperature and other reactive methods may be employed to correct the symptoms that the pup is showing, with the intention of correcting the decline caused by fading puppy syndrome and strengthening the immune system, and providing adequate nutrition to allow the pup to develop and grow normally.

It is important to keep a close eye on any litter of pups and weigh each pup on a daily basis during their first weeks of life, in order to identify fading puppy syndrome or any other problems that arise quickly, and so that treatment can be sought promptly if needed.

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