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'Fading puppies' is not a diagnosis

Puppies need 3 things to survive after whelping:

  • Warmth
  • Energy (sugar)
  • Water

If a puppy gets chilled it will die. If a puppy becomes hypoglycemic it will die. If a puppy becomes dehydrated it will die. Those are the parameters of fading puppies.

Puppies may die due to developmental problems in the uterus such as a malformed heart or other anomalies. These puppies we cannot help. We may be able to keep them going for a few days, but they will eventually die.

Puppies may die due to infections. Herpes virus is one such infection. We prevent this with proper management of the bitch, the kennel and our show, training and social activities. Unbilical cord infection leading to septicemia is another source of infection for puppies. Proper treatment of the cord at birth, coupled with good sanitation -- keeping the bitch, the box and the puppies scrupulously clean -- will prevent this problem.

The greatest infectious risk to the puppies comes from an E. coli infection in the vagina of the bitch. We're assuming that an E. coli infection in the uterus will result in no puppies. However, if E. coli is found with a high vaginal culture, the bitch must be treated before breeding, and again just before whelping even if the infection is only in the vagina. In addition, puppies born to a bitch with a positive E. coli culture must be treated for 5 days after they are born with cephalexin pediatric suspension beginning within a couple of hours of birth. Puppies not treated in this way will often begin to die from about two to four days after birth. If antibiotics are not begun until after puppies begin to die, typically half to all of the litter will die before the drug has a chance to become effective in the remaining puppies.

Puppies must get their colostrum from the bitch within their first 12 hours of life. If necessary, colostrum should be expressed from the bitch's breasts and fed by dropper to each puppy to ensure this. A puppy cannot get colostrum from another bitch with an older litter. It is only produced by the dam for a short time after she whelps, and it can only be passed through the puppies intestinal mucosa in the active form for the first few hours of life. If a puppy doesn't get colostrum, it will be much more susceptible to infections.

We've observed several instances of bitches that whelp part of a litter naturally, but require a C-section to get the last puppies out. If puppies from these litters develop infections such as neonatal ophthalmia or puppy strangles, it will be the puppies delivered by section, that don't have as good a chance to obtain colostrum, that develop the infections. There are breeds which are thought to have poor immunity based on puppy infection data. One such is the Norwich Terrier. We feel strongly that this is due to the fact that nearly all of some lines are delivered by C-section, and that we can, in fact, reverse this tendency by expressing colostrum and feeding it to the puppies by dropper, or by using colostrum we have frozen from other bitches to provide some immunity to the puppies.

Preventing and treating 'fading puppies'

Fading puppy is not a diagnosis, it is a description. After we exclude the puppies discussed above, which are malformed or infected, we are left with the puppies which are dehydrated, hypoglycemic, or chilled. These are the 'faders'.

It's often said that the 'mother knows best' when a bitch rejects a puppy - as though she has x-ray eyes and can spot a malformed heart or other defect. The fact is the bitch can't tell the difference between a malformed puppy and one that is chilled, dehydrated or hypoglycemic. She only knows that it isn't thriving.

Every puppy is a Best In Show puppy. This is the premise we work on in this practice. Until the puppies are old enough to be evaluated, we assume any one of them may turn out to be the pick of the litter. There are plenty of occasions where the runt of the litter turns out to be a Best In Show winner later in life. Knowing this, we would like to preserve all the puppies we can to grow up and realize their potential.

What a fading puppy needs is fairly simple - first determine if something else, such as an E. coli infection, needs addressing - this particular information is best obtained by culturing the bitch before breeding. Then, provide the heat, calories and fluids to support the puppy for first 2 to 4 days of its life.

Remove the fading puppy from the whelping box and put it into a small box with a heating pad. Provide different amounts of padding over the heating pad at different parts of the box so the puppy may find the amount of heat most comfortable for it. Partially cover the box with a towel. We must do this because the bitch will allow the puppy to get chilled when it is not as vigorous as the rest of the litter.

To provide the water and sugar needed, we inject sub-cutaneous fluids under the skin on the top of the neck of the puppy. You should do this every 2 hours while the puppy is in the box. You must go over this with your veterinarian so that you can be instructed on how to do this safely. However, that being said, this is the most totally effective thing you can do for this puppy and you will save nearly all of your fading puppies with this technique. The fluid is dextrose in saline. This means that in addition to preventing dehydration, it will provide energy - the dextrose part is sugar. With this method, you can satisfy any fluid requirements in a dehydrated puppy and you can leave a repository of fluid for the puppy to draw on for the next two hours. A few other things such as stimulation to urinate and defecate, and you've got it managed. After about 48 hours in the box, nearly all the puppies you undertake this with will be strong enough to rejoin the litter full time.

Every couple of hours, you should place a drop of Karo syrrup on the tongue of the puppy. About 5 minutes later, place the puppy on the bitches nipple to nurse. Find a good nipple, make sure there is milk there, and that other puppies aren't going to get in the way - it might be necessary to put the rest of the puppies in a box while this puppy nurses. If you are using oxytocin, put the fading or slow gaining puppies on the bitch about 15 minutes after the oxytocin shot, while leaving the other pupies aside for as long as the weaker ones will nurse.

Do not tube the puppy. A full discussion of the reasons why we don't want puppies tubed is found in our article on feeding newborn puppies.

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