Fading Puppy Syndrome: How to Help a Sick Newborn Puppy


Fading Puppy Syndrome: How to Help a Sick Newborn Puppy

Fading newborn puppies need help right away to survive the early weeks of life. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM head shot
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM head shot By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM January 06, 2023 Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print man holding 2-week old puppy in his palm; fading puppy syndrome
man holding 2-week old puppy in his palm; fading puppy syndrome Credit: Jo / Adobe Stock

On This Page

  • What is Fading Puppy Syndrome?
  • Causes
  • Signs
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Prevention

Newborn puppies are tiny, lovable bundles of cuteness. But like human newborns, they're vulnerable and fragile, needing 24-hour care and vigilance to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, not all newborn puppies survive the early weeks of life, and fading puppy syndrome may be to blame.

Fading puppy syndrome often strikes without warning, with affected puppies succumbing to the condition shortly after showing signs. Knowing about this syndrome can help you give your precious puppies the best chance of survival after birth.

What is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Puppies affected with fading puppy syndrome can appear healthy and normal at birth but will fade within about two weeks.

Like human babies, newborn puppies face an uphill battle after they are born. Their immune systems are immature, leaving them susceptible to infection while they're unable to regulate their body temperature or blood glucose levels. Oh, and newborn puppies are born blind and deaf and rely solely on their mother for nourishment.

Without proper care and nourishment, newborn puppies are at risk for fading puppy syndrome.

RELATED: How Much Should My Puppy Eat?

What Causes Fading Puppy Syndrome?

The causes of fading puppy syndrome can be grouped into three categories: environmental, genetic, and infectious.


  • Toxins
  • Hypothermia or hyperthermia
  • Maternal neglect
  • Overweight mom
  • Older mom
  • Poor milk quality
  • Inadequate milk supply
  • Unsanitary living conditions


  • Birth defects (cleft palate, heart defects)


  • Viral infections
  • Bacterial infections

Other causes of fading puppy syndrome include low birth weight and a difficult birthing process. In some cases of fading puppy syndrome, the cause remains unknown.

Signs of Fading Puppy Syndrome

The signs of fading puppy syndrome may occur without warning and include:

  • Weakness
  • Immobility
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Not nursing well
  • Persistent crying
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Little or no urine or feces
  • Withdrawing from the litter
  • Not gaining weight ("runt of the litter")

It is common for a mom to abandon puppies suffering from fading puppy syndrome. Although this may seem heartless to us, the mom knows she must focus her energy and resources on the other pups in her litter who are likely to survive.

RELATED: How Much Sleep Do Puppies Need?

Diagnosing Fading Puppy Syndrome

If a newborn puppy is starting to fade, take them to your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will do an extensive diagnostic workup to determine the underlying cause of the puppy's failure to thrive.

Your veterinarian may also want you to bring in the puppy's mom to check her health. If you have been recording the puppies' weights since birth, provide that information to your vet during the appointment.

The diagnostic workup will include a physical examination, bloodwork, a fecal exam, and a urinalysis. If your veterinarian suspects an infection, they will take a sample (e.g., urine sample) to test for bacteria or viruses.

How to Treat Fading Puppy Syndrome

Puppies with fading puppy syndrome frequently die within 24 hours of showing signs. Also, some causes of the syndrome, such as birth defects, are not easily treatable. Immediate veterinary care is critical to try to save a fading puppy.

Treatments for fading puppy syndrome include warmth, fluids, and oxygen. Antibiotics are given if there's a bacterial infection. The puppy will be fed by hand until they are strong enough to nurse independently.

  • Monitor the puppy's weight daily. Contact your veterinarian if the puppy is not gaining weight.
  • Check the puppy's hydration daily by observing urine color and moistness inside the mouth. A dry mouth and dark urine indicate dehydration.
  • Administer medications according to your veterinarian's prescription instructions.
  • Feed your puppy according to your veterinarian's prescribed feeding regimen.

If your newborn puppy survives with treatment and can go back home, your veterinarian will give you at-home care instructions, described below. Follow these instructions carefully to help your puppy fully recover and stay on the path to good health.

Contact your veterinarian if your puppy is not doing well. Your puppy may need to be re-examined and receive additional treatment.

RELATED: How and When to Use Formula to Bottle-Feed a Newborn Puppy

Can You Prevent Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Fading puppy syndrome is not always preventable—it depends on the underlying cause. For example, birth defects or a difficult birth are typically outside a pet owner's control.

For preventable underlying causes, consider these prevention strategies:

  • Feed mom a nutritious diet during pregnancy, being careful not to over-supplement her diet.
  • Keep the whelping area clean and warm.
  • Weigh newborn puppies daily.
  • Observe newborn puppies closely for any signs of fading puppy syndrome and seek veterinary care immediately if necessary.
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