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fading puppy syndrome explained 1

The Dog Breeder’s Guide To Fading Puppy Syndrome

by | Jul 4, 2022 | 0 comments

Fading Puppy Syndrome is a terrifying and worrying experience for any dog breeder. In this dog breeder’s guide, we will explore the signs and symptoms, along with the actions to take to stop the spread. 

What is Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Fading puppy syndrome (FPS) is a term used to describe puppies that are apparently normal at birth, but gradually fade and die. 

This normally occurs within the first two weeks of life.

Puppy death statistics show that up to thirty percent (30%) die, with about half of these deaths occurring within the first week of life.

Why do puppies develop Fading Puppy Syndrome?

During the first two weeks of life, puppies are vulnerable to illness and stress. They are also unable to regulate their body temperature. In addition to this, their immune systems are not fully functioning.

They have limited protection from infections. All of these factors mean that puppies are susceptible to dying from a variety of causes.

how many puppies die in a litter

Often “fading puppies” are reported to be a low birth weight or fail to gain weight at the same rate as their siblings (the ‘runt’ of the litter).

They have decreased activity and an inability to suckle. These puppies have a tendency to remain separate from the mother and the rest of the litter.

They are often reported to cry weakly in a high-pitched tone. They often progress quickly to severe lethargy, loss of muscle tone, and death.

Common factors that cause Fading Puppy Syndrome include:

  • Lack of adequate care from the mother
  • Lack of milk production or poor quality milk
  • Inadequate nursing or milk consumption
  • Congenital (present from birth) defects in the puppy
  • Low birth weight
  • Infectious causes from a lack of hygiene (bacterial) or disease (viral)

In this guide, we are going to look at the relationship between Canine Herpes Virus (CHV) and Fading Puppy Syndrome.

CHV is a common viral infection similar to the herpes virus found in other mammals such as humans. CHV has an extremely high prevalence, with estimates putting the total number of infected dogs as high as 90%!

CHV lives in the reproductive and respiratory tracts of male and female dogs. 

canine herpes spread

In adults dogs, canine herpes is transmitted via 

  • exchange of breath 
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nosing  
  • Sniffing 
  • Licking
  • Sexual contact 

From a breeding perspective, the point of mating is a high-risk time. 

Sexual contact usually involves all the above! Frequently used stud dogs pose a high risk and should be regularly monitored by the stud owner. It is perfectly reasonable for you to ask a stud dog owner if they screen their dog.

There is an argument stating that artificial insemination lowers the risk of contracting CHV considerably, although no studies have been done to scientifically support this. 

During the procedure of artificial insemination, the dogs are still in close proximity, they often touch, lick and breath on each other and of course, they are inseminated with semen from the dog. 

Therefore while it may lower the risk, it is best practice to health screen.


Symptoms of Canine Herpes Virus in Adult Dogs

There are often no obvious symptoms but studies show that the following can sometimes be an indication:

  • Raised sores on genitals 
  • Kennel Cough 
  • Abortion 
  • Still Birth

How do puppies get Canine Herpes Virus?

Puppies contract the disease in the birth canal when they are being born or from the mother licking and breathing on them after birth.

Puppies can then spread the virus to one another as they interact within the whelping box.

However, just because one puppy in a litter is infected with CHV does not mean they all are.

fading puppy syndrome symptoms

Puppy Symptoms of Canine Herpes Virus

  • Sudden death of newborn puppy
  • Weakness, lethargy 
  • Persistent crying 
  • Lack of suckle reflex/appetite 
  • Painful abdomen 
  • Soft, yellow/green faeces 
  • Cold puppies 
  • Breathing difficulties/discharge from the nose 
  • Haemorrhages, nose bleeds/bruises 
  • Older puppies may develop nervous system abnormalities, including blindness and seizures

Preventing Canine Herpes Virus Spread

Before breeding your dog, be it male or female, ask your vet for a test to see if your dog has antibodies, and therefore has at some point been exposed to CHV. 

This is similar to an STD test in humans.

The Canine Herpes Vaccine

Your vet can then advise you on the best course of action. There is a vaccine that can be given details are as follows; 

  • First injection is given either when the female is in season or 7-10 days after date of mating. 
  • Second injection is given 1-2 weeks before the expected whelping date

Revaccination via the same schedule for each mating is advised. This will prevent the infection from resurfacing in a later whelping.

Diagnosing Fading Puppy Syndrome

A breeder will first notice a “puppy fading” when not suckling well. The puppy may be noisy, almost mewing like a kitten. It will usually be cold and not active. They often crawl away to the corner, alone. 

This then starts to happen to another, and then another. It is heartbreaking and very distressing for the bitch. 

If any of your puppies appear to be showing any signs of illness or abnormal behaviour, contact your vet immediately. 

The sooner you get treatment, the higher the survival rate will be. There is no cure, but there are options to support the puppies. If you act fast you can aid their recovery and save their lives.

newborn puppies

Take action fast to stop the spread

Don’t waste time. If one or more puppies are showing signs, separate them from the rest of the litter as soon as possible. 

They can quickly pass the virus on to other littermates who may be healthy. Not all of the puppies in one litter will contract CHV, and therefore preserving the health of the puppies that are not affected is crucial. 

Remember to maintain temperature appropriately. CHV thrives in the body at lower temperatures. 

One way to help the recovery of your puppies, or prevent more of them from becoming ill, is to keep the room and body temperature of your puppies warm. 

The temperature should be maintained between 29-32 degrees for the first week to ten days. 

Newborn puppies cannot regulate their own temperature and quickly get cold. 


  • Separate affected puppies 
  • Call the vet 
  • Keep them warm 

While CHV is usually fatal in young puppies, some puppies will manage to avoid catching the infection from an affected female, and some will survive. 

Do not automatically assume that you will lose the whole litter.

NOTE; humans cannot contract Canine Herpes Virus from dogs.

Our Dog Breeder Courses

There is so much that goes into breeding, whelping and raising a healthy and robust litter of puppies. At Pupstarts Breeders, we’re dedicated to helping you gain all the knowledge you need to ethically, safely and responsibly breed with confidence. 

Check out our full range of courses for dog breeders here. 

Rebecca Walters

I’m Rebecca Walters, founder of Pupstarts Breeders. I’m a 5-star licensed dog breeder, an ex-licensing officer, and a woman committed to changing the industry for good.

I want to deliver all the dog breeding information, advice and education you need to be an ethical and reputable dog breeder who makes a difference in the world.

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