Fading Puppy Syndrome

Articles by John Kohnke BVSc RDA. Consultant to Vetsearch International

Some puppies, despite adequate feed, do not thrive and as a result grow poorly. They often suffer from a variety of digestive upsets and respiratory problems as part of their general ill-thrift condition. Sometimes the failure to thrive can affect a single pup in a litter, or, in more severe cases, a number of puppies will develop what is often termed "fading puppy syndrome", and die within 5 - 10 days.

Many of these puppies are vigorous and healthy at birth, but within 2-10 days lose their interest in nursing. They often"cry" in a monotonous way as though they are in pain or discomfort. They lose body weight, crawl into corners away from the rest of the litter and die, despite careful nursing.

A normal puppy will sleep most of the time until it is 3-4 weeks of age. Most puppies will suckle, sleep and may crawl over each other during the first 2-3 weeks. If a pup does not do this it should be carefully examined. Most new born puppies up to 3-4 days of age, will curl up when placed belly up on the palm of the hand. After this time and up until about 3 weeks of age, a healthy puppy will stretch out when picked up and lift its legs up. Any puppy that does not show this response, should be treated as being abnormal, or having some sort of nervous condition, or likely to have "fading puppy syndrome".

The common term, "fading puppy syndrome", describes the symptoms, rather than an actual or separate disease, in young puppies. Affected young puppies are generally less active, lack vitality, and often fade away, and finally die within 2-3 weeks of birth. They often fail to gain body weight in proportion to their age and their litter mates, despite appearing to suckle well and consume part of their special puppy food, e.g.. Farex and milk, from the first week of age. In most cases, fading puppies will suffer a low-grade infection with a virus or bacterial germ. However, occasionally, failure to thrive can be due to inborn metabolic errors, from a genetic or development abnormality, or other internal digestive malfunction in the young puppy. Puppies that seem normal at birth but rapidly deteriorate within the first 2-4 days, are most likely to have a bacterial infection, which can cause them to lose interest in nursing and deteriorate from the first day of birth. Usually, these puppies die within the first 2-5 days after birth, although some may linger on, depending on the amount of nursing and any other type of therapy that is given.

Bacterial Germ Infection:

Bacterial germs can gain entry in the womb birth canal or through the navel stump. However, in most cases, it is thought that the bitch herself carries the infection in her womb prior to birth, and the Staph, Strep, and E-Coli germs contaminate the pup's digestive system and blood. In severe cases, the contamination can be spread as the bitch licks her new-born puppies to warm and clean them after birth. In sever cases, puppies that are born small and weak may already be infected by the germs that build up in the womb, because of a low-grade infection in the uterine horns themselves. Most of the puppies that develop a severe sepicaemic infection during the first 2-4 days of birth usually are born healthy. They are initially active, but start to deteriorate within the first 12-24 hours. As compared with a viral infection, which occurs at a later stage from 1-2 weeks of age, puppies with a bacterial infection, which occurs at a later stage between 1-2 weeks of age, puppies with a bacterial infection, usually lose condition and appetite within a few hours. The most significant sign is swelling and distension of the belly. The navel cord often becomes more prominent and reddened due to infection.

Young puppies do not have a lot of reserves, and infection quickly sets up a lethal toxic reaction. It is essential to get them to your vet as soon as possible so that suitable antibiotic treatment, usually Lincomycin, can be given. The naval stump should be treated with antiseptics, such as a weak iodine solution, to dry it out and reduce the risk of it maintaining an active route of infection.

Proper nursing to ensure that the puppies are kept warm and fed with bottles will help to increase the chance they will recover. However, it is most important not to waste time hoping the puppies will get better and improve. You must recognize the problem as soon as possible, particularly if a puppy starts to fade and develop a bloated tummy, and promptly seek advice from your et. Some breeders separate affected puppies away from the other ones so that they do not have a chance of spreading any infection on their skin and naval cords as the bitch licks them and transfers it to the other puppies. However, again your vet will give you advice on the best way to manage the sick puppies.

Viral Problems::

In most cases, the range of normal canine viruses that are present in the environment can affect the young, new-born puppy. The bitch herself may be immune, but the puppies can be susceptible, depending on their colostrum intake. studies earlier in Australia have shown that the Canine Herpes Virus, a flu-like virus,can be a cause for fading puppy syndrome, with typical signs of lethargy, crying, and oozing of mucus exudates from the nose and eyes. It is most commonly observed in puppies in a crowded nursing area. Usually, puppies are affected under one week of age and die over a two-three week period. Although some puppies may die within 12-24 hours of becoming less active, others may linger on, depending on the amount of nursing and care given to support them. However, on post mortem, most puppies that die show bleeding of the liver surface and also often haemorrhages and bluish congestion in the bowels. The kidneys may also lose colour, feel soft and mushy and have internal haemorrhages throughout the cut surface.
Diagnosis of this type is obviously a job for your vet, and this can help confirm that sickness is caused by a virus present in the kennel group.
Unfortunately, if a virus is suspected, there is no targeted treatment available, and supportive therapy and good nursing is the only way to help a puppy fight the viral disease. Often the weaker and smaller puppies in a litter are the first to fade.

Support Theraphy:

If given early enough, a course of antibiotics over 5-7 days can help to delay the onset of secondary bacterial infection of viral damaged tissue in the lungs, gut or liver. However, the most effective supportive therapy, is to give an injection of blood serum from another healthy animal. Collection of the blood and preparation of the serum is a job strictly for your vet. It is best to allow your vet to take a blood sample from a dog that has been boosted recently. Alternatively, one that has a full vaccination course with regular annual boosters against the common viral infections that affect dogs, can be used a s a donor. The bitch herself can be used as a serum donor if she has been vaccinated during pregnancy, and some of the weaker pups did not suckle enough colostrum to give them adequate protection in the first place. However, if the bitch was not vaccinated, or her puppies have received adequate colostrum, and still fade, then she may have low blood antibody levels herself. he would not be a suitable donor in this case.

Various other studies have suggested that puppies may be infected by a bitch that has not been vaccinated regularly. The virus localises and spreads through the membranes during the whelping process, or by inhalation of the virus after birth as the puppies are licked by their mother, or become contaminated in a heavily crowded puppy area. It is important therefore, to ensure the bitch is given a booster "4 in 1 shot" at between 4 to 6 weeks prior to whelping (no later). Consult your own vet on the best vaccine type and combination to use. Nowadays, with a wide range of excellent vaccines available, a planned vaccination program carried out during pregnancy, can help to boost the immunity passed in the colostrum, or first milk, against common viruses. Most puppies that suckle strongly will take in enough colostrum antibodies to protect them against minor viral infections during the first 2-3 weeks of age.

Maintain Warmth:

It is most important of course to keep puppies warm for the first week to ten days of age. During this time they rely on external warmth to keep them warm, either from the bitch curled up around them, or the bedding. If puppies are not gaining weight and suckling properly, then they should be considered to be abnormal and require investigation. Most health young puppies will double their birth weight in the first 7 to 10 days of birth and then double it again within the next three weeks. Normally, younger puppies have a lower body temperature of 36.5 -37 degrees C., which begins to increase after the first two weeks of age. This is because puppies lose a lot of heat into the environment, and their body temperature is lower. Once they start to generate their own heat from metabolism, and can shiver from about two weeks of age, they maintain a higher body temperature of 37.5-38 degrees C.

It is always a good idea to nurse young puppies that are sick by keeping them in a warm area, as cold conditions weaken their resistance when exposed to chilling. If they move away from a warming light overnight, or crawl away from the rest of the puppy group, it will increase the cold stress and hasten the onset of their deterioration. Lack of adequate nest bedding and a protected area for the bitch, also increases the risk of fading puppy syndrome, particularly during the colder months. Besides ensuring young puppies, weak or less active ones in particular, are kept warm,attentive nursing of sick or fading puppies is paramount to their chance of recovery. Loss of body heat and chilling is a common reason for rapid decline in sick puppies. Their large body surface relative to their size, with little hair to insulate against heat loss, increases the risk of hypothermia as they fade.

Monitor Floor Temperature:

Purchase an accurate household room thermometer and place it at the level of the bedding, obviously protected from accidental damage as the bitch moves around. It is important to monitor the temperature bedding level, as this is likely to be the coolest area. Warm air rises, and even if there is a warm zone at our head height, it may be colder at floor level. Do not over-heat puppies with infra-red lamps. For the first week of life, maintain floor temperature at 30 degrees C., and at about 25-27 degrees C. for older puppies. Adjust heat lamps or Column oil-filled heaters to maintain this temperature range, especially overnight. Your vet will give you specific nursing advice for very sick puppies. However, it is essential that you give therapy at timed intervals, and complete the course of treatment, even if puppies recover and regain their strength and vitality.

Maintain Fluids and Energy:

Pupies that are under stress of disease, or are losing body weight, have a much better chance of recovery if they are given fluids to prevent dehydration. It is best to give fluids warmed to body heat. This is best gauged by adding clean, warm water until drops of the fluid placed on the bare skin the underside of your wrist do not feel cold or hot. Although a sugar solution, to provide energy and fluids, made up by adding one and one half teaspoons of glucose per 100ml of boiled water (seven and one half percent glucose), is the optimum concentration. It is best to provide electrolytes as well with the glucose drink. A rehydration fluid, such as Recharge is ideal, as it contains glucose and electrolytes in the combined formulation. However, it must be diluted before giving to puppies and extra glucose must be added.

This is the recipe- Keep it filed away in case you ever need it !

Add 5ml of "Recharge" to 100ml(about half a cupful) of boiled water that has been cooled to blood heat. Mix 5g (one teaspoonful) of glucose powder into the 100ml of made up Recharge. Stir well and ensure it is at blood temperature before feeding. This energy and electrolyte solution can be given with a small nursing bottle and teat to puppies that can still suckle, or with an eye dropper to puppies that are too weak.. I normally recommend that you carefully pick up the puppy by wrapping it in a small towel-type face washer and gently hold it with its head upright when giving it the rehydration mixture. After the puppy has been given the mixture, it will normally want to sleep. Place it back gently in a warm place, still wrapped in the face washer, with its head out.

As a guide, puppies should be given about 10-15ml of the mixture per 100g of body weight over a 24 hour period, or roughly 5ml(I teaspoonful) per 100g bodyweight very 6-8 hours.

It is important to consult your vet immediately, if a puppy develops diarrhea or becomes dehydrated and less active, despite your expert nursing care.=



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