Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who
partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.



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

Why Do Puppies Fade (Die)?

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 to 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 who 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.

Reasons for Fading Puppy Syndrome

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 S treptococcus 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.

Symptoms of Fading

Generally, ”faders” will appear to be born normal, with an eagerness to
suckle, but then they begin to weaken, lose weight, and 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.

How to Keep a Weak Newborn Puppy Alive

Diagnosis. 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.

Warmth. Puppies that appear cold should be warmed carefully and gradually
by holding them next to the skin until lively again. Heating chilled puppies
too rapidly may be dangerous.

Fluids. Dehydrated pups should be fed the following recipe by eyedropper:

  • half teaspoon of salt
  • two teaspoons of sugar
  • two teaspoons of honey

Dissolve these ingredients in one cup of comfortably warm boiled water. This
should be dropper-fed every few minutes.

Special Treatment. Fading puppies should be separated from other puppies
and placed in a box with a heating pad. They should be given a drop of Karo
syrup every couple of hours rubbed on the puppy’s gums. Fluids as necessary
should be given under the skin per the vet’s instructions in order to keep the
pup well hydrated.

Mother’s milk. 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.

Prevention of Fading

Not all cases of fading puppy can be prevented.

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  • 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 guidance of a vet).
  • De-wormers should be given as per the 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

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

Answer: 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.


Sam on February 03, 2020:

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

Ann on April 08, 2019:

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

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 05, 2015:

Maybe a way of saying “survival of the fittests”?

Tara Kennedy on October 30, 2015:

Why would vet say thrive to survive diagnosis

rohit nogai, pantnagar, B.V.Sc student on May 08, 2010:

nice and elaborated discription of the desired query. thanks

BEN GEER on December 30, 2009: