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What is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Written by Anna Hollisey


litter of new born puppies

‘Fading Puppy Syndrome’ affects around 30% of puppies. It’s the clinical term for puppies who fail to feed or contract an infection, grow weak, and visibly ‘fade’. Half of the pups diagnosed with FPS die within their first 7 days of life. 

What is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

FPS, or Early Death, is the term given to puppies who die within 2 weeks of birth. It’s quite common, but under-researched: right now, we just don’t know enough about Fading Puppy Syndrome.

We do know that there seems to be a variety of causes and symptoms for early death among puppies. But even if it’s diagnosed, the syndrome can be difficult to treat; in most cases, veterinarians are sadly unable to save these pups. 

What are the Symptoms of Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Research tells us that there is a broad range of ‘non-specific’ symptoms,(PP)1%E2%80%934.; pups are likely to feed less, grow weaker, and die. FPS can be difficult to identify. 

The ‘runt’ of the litter is susceptible to some of these problems, which can result in underfeeding and death. Even worse, the mother will probably make little effort to support this pup – because her instinct tells her to feed the strongest puppies. 

Here are the warning signs of FPS. Watch out for any or all of these:

  • The puppy may have a low birth-weight.
  • They may be unable to feed properly.
  • They might stay apart from the rest of the litter.
  • They may seem weak, or even limp, and reluctant to move.
  • The puppy may have diarrhoea and vomiting (monitor this; green or yellow faeces may indicate an infection).
  • The puppy may cry – typically a high-pitched squall which sounds like a seagull. 
  • Their body temperature may drop.

What Causes Fading Puppy Syndrome?

When puppies are born, their immune systems are not fully functional. They depend on their mother’s milk to build immunity and grow. If they can’t access milk, their chances of survival decline. Here are some factors which are known to cause FPS:

  • A birth defect. Some puppies are born with defects which prevent them from nursing. 
  • A low birth weight. Pups who are born smaller and weaker are disadvantaged at feeding time. 
  • Failure to feed. Weaker pups may not get enough milk or colostrum – the fluid produced immediately after birth, which is crucial for their immune systems.
  • The mother fails to feed her puppy. Sometimes the mother is neglectful (judging the pup to be unsuccessful) or, in poor health, is unable to nurse all her puppies. 

Pups can face extra challenges which reduce their chances of survival:

In 2021, a study of purebred litters,(PP)1%E2%80%934. suggested that bacterial samples could be used to detect which puppies would develop FPS. This suggests that the condition may (in some cases) be linked to intestinal microbiota, and identification is the first step towards early treatment. 

Can You Prevent Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Sadly, the prognosis (life expectancy) is usually poor for pups who are diagnosed with FPS. 

To give your new litter the best chance, you should:

  1. Keep the whelping box/learn/dog-lifestyle/how-to-care-for-a-pregnant-dog clean and warm to prevent bacterial infection and chills.
  2. Weigh the puppies regularly to be sure they are feeding and growing.
  3. Observe the puppies closely for signs of infection, as early intervention is key.

If you notice any symptoms, it’s essential to get veterinary help right away. It’s important to keep the puppy warm (85-90 degrees during the first four days) and hydrated – the pup might need hand-feeding. Your vet can check for infections and prescribe antibiotics if necessary. They’ll also advise you on hygiene practices to keep mum and pups as healthy as possible.