Fading Puppy Syndrome

Fading puppy syndrome is when a seemingly healthy puppy starts to either lose weight, not gain weight, and/or loses its energy and will to survive for no apparent reason or health issue.

There are some things that can be done that can help many puppies survive and avoid what it termed as fading puppy syndrome.

©Photo Courtesy of Zenia Johnsen

Unfortunately, not all puppies do survive and some of them die for no apparent reason.  It is always hard to watch a puppy die.

It is especially upsetting to not know why a healthy puppy died.  Sometimes it is an unknown birth defect, or you might even know what is wrong with the pup, but there isn’t anything that can be done for it.

The first 2 weeks of a pup’s life is the most critical, and especially the first 10 days.  It is usually within this time frame that pups will be lost. 

Always keep a very close eye on your puppies.  Several times a day, look them over to make sure that all of them appear to be content, nursing, and cuddling, either with mom or the rest of the litter.

Weigh your puppies daily and keep a chart on their weight.  If you find that one of the pups is starting to have trouble gaining weight, it is critical that you intervene.
 
Many times a newborn puppy is a slow or weak nurser and needs a few extra days in figuring out exactly how to express milk from its mother’s teats.

The problem with the pup needing this extra time is that the bigger and stronger pups will knock the weaker pup off of a nipple and the pup just grows weaker.

©Photo Courtesy of Zenia Johnsen

However, I do not rush to bottle feed for a few reasons.  A weak or struggling puppy needs his mother’s milk even more than the fat, healthy ones do!

It is very hard for a puppy to try and get the hang of bottle feeding, as it is not natural for them. 

When puppies nurse, have you noticed how they push and seem to knead at their mother’s teat?  This is how they help express her milk.

With bottle feeding, they squirm and struggle because the nipple is much different than mom’s and they try to push and knead the bottle, which of course, does them no good.

The best solution for a puppy that is having a hard time learning to nurse properly, or isn’t gaining weight well, is to move the other puppies away from the mom and allow the weak puppy to nurse alone without competition.

Remember that every puppy is individual in what works well for that puppy.  Some puppies do better nursing at the back of their mother, some in the middle, and some at the top of their mother.

You will notice that depending on where you place the pup, some teats are fuller and larger than others.  But there is milk in all of them.

Trying to get a weak pup to nurse at a full, larger teat may be too hard for the pup to master right away. 

You will need to place the pup at various teats and give him a minute or two to latch on to one.  Notice where the pup seems to nurse better.

Do this several times a day and your pup should start gaining a bit of weight within 12 hours.  Keep this up for several days and soon the pup will be able to hold his own and nurse while all of his littermates are nursing.

Another important factor in preventing fading puppy syndrome is making sure that the weaker pup is kept warm. 

©Photo Courtesy of Zenia Johnsen

A heating pad placed in the whelping box is a good idea, as long as there are places for both the mother and the puppies to be able to crawl off of it if they get too hot.

If you ever notice momma pushing this weak pup away from her and the other puppies, this is a bad sign. 

If a puppy gets chilled, sometimes a mother dog will push it away as to not chill the other puppies, but this will cause certain death.

In a case like that, then the pup will need to be cared for by you.  You’ll need to keep the pup at a room temperature of 90°F and bottle feed the puppy every 2 to 3 hours.

Not all instances of fading puppy syndrome can be prevented, but following these guidelines, will go a long way in saving many puppies from death.


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