How to Prevent, Recognize, and Treat Fading Puppy Syndrome

Updated on May 23, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."


Fading puppy syndrome affects puppies under the age of 12 weeks which are known as ''faders''. Such puppies basically fail to thrive and are unable to survive. According to Petplace, about 20 to 40 percent of all puppies do not survive past 12 weeks of age!

Newborn puppies are very vulnerable creatures, they are born blind and deaf and by instinct, thanks to their sense of smell, they will learn to feed on the mother's nipples. By feeding on the colostrum, a special fluid mother dogs produce for the first 24-48 hours after giving life, puppies are able to absorb some very important nutrients that will boost their immune system, allowing them to thrive and very likely resist illness until they are vaccinated against diseases. All puppies should receive this very important milk. It is most important to receive it within 12 hours after birth as this is when the pup's intestinal lining is able to absorb it the best.

However, depending on one reason or another, some puppies will gradually fail to thrive. Mother dogs may help these pups for a bit, but then she will allow nature to run its course. This may seem cruel to us humans which would do what it takes at times to save vulnerable creatures, but dogs see through the eyes of survival, where raising weak pups is counterproductive.

Fading puppies fail to thrive due to a variety of reasons. These puppies may have developed problems while still in the uterus, during the birth process, or during weaning. Some may have birth defects such as cleft palate, heart defects, or rectal abnormalities such as a lack of an anus. Other causes may be attributed to the mother not being fed an ideal diet during pregnancy, the administration of drugs or simply uterine malnutrition due to an overly large litter.

In some cases, puppies succumb to bacterial and viral infections. Parvo, E-coli along with Staphylococcus and Streptococcus infections, are some common culprits. Unsanitary conditions may cause umbilical cord infections leading to septicemia. Trauma and complications during the birth process may negatively affect the puppy causing it to ultimately perish.


Generally, ''faders'' will appear to be born normal, with an eagerness to suckle, but then they begin to weaken, lose weight, become restless and vocal. This usually takes place two to ten days after birth. The pups will appear to be in discomfort, often repeatedly crying in a monotonous manner. They may stray away from the litter and rest in corners, whereas healthy puppies will sleep and crawl against one another.


The survival of the puppies depends on finding the underlying causes. Aggressive veterinary care may be needed in the case of serious diseases such as Parvo or Herpes virus. Some congenital defects may be severe with a poor prognosis. Bacterial infections may require antibiotics. Puppies that appear chilled should be warmed carefully and gradually by holding them next to the skin until lively again. Heating chilled puppies too rapidly may be dangerous.

Dehydrated pups should be be fed the following recipe by eye dropper: half teaspoon of salt, two teaspoons of sugar, and two teaspoons of honey all dissolved in one cup of comfortably warm boiled water. This should be dropper fed every few minutes. Fading puppies should be separated by other puppies and placed in a box with a heating pad. They should be given every couple of hours, a drop of Karo syrup rubbed on the puppy's gums. Fluids as necessary should be given under the skin per vet's instructions in order to keep the pup well hydrated. Once the pup appears more energetic, it should be allowed to nurse. If other pups get in the way they should be temporarily put in a warmed box until the fading puppy finishes nursing.


Not all cases of fading puppy can be prevented. Feeding the mother a high quality diet may help prevent fading puppy syndrome. However, mother dogs should not be over supplemented. A culture for vaginal E-coli bacteria is recommended in bitches before breeding. A veterinary visit of the mother and the pups after delivery is recommended to check that everything is proceeding well. A nice whelping box may ensure that mother and puppies have sufficient space lowering the risk of having the puppies crushed while ensuring warmth and ventilation.

Puppies should be weighed regularly ensuring they are not losing weight. They should be also watched for signs of dehydration or chilling. A dehydrated pup's skin over the shoulder blades will not spring back promptly when pulled up.

Mothers should not be given antibiotics prior to or right after labor (unless under the guide of a vet). De-wormers should be given as per vet's instructions. As a general reference, mothers producing several ''faders'' in a litter should not be bred in the future.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

  • Is Karo syrup or honey best for treating fading puppy syndrome?

    Both may work well (and so may pancake syrup) as long as they do not contain the toxic artificial sweetener xylitol, which can be deadly. Afterward, keep the pup warm and see your emergency vet to increase the chances of survival.


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    • profile image


      3 months ago

      My pups where born to days ago 10 babys but last nigth one past away he when stiff i got him to come back to us 4 times im worryied about the others any advice

    • profile image


      13 months ago

      Thankyou,i didnt know about the mixture,devistating when it happpens..

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      4 years ago

      Maybe a way of saying "survival of the fittests"?

    • profile image

      Tara Kennedy 

      4 years ago

      Why would vet say thrive to survive diagnosis

    • profile image

      rohit nogai, pantnagar, B.V.Sc student 

      10 years ago

      nice and elaborated discription of the desired query. thanks

    • profile image

      BEN GEER 

      10 years ago



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