If you've cried when they died, you know the agony of watching newborn puppies fade away and die. How to save weak, dehydrated pups.
A Simple Solution
Margo Carter, Phoenix Rising Toy Fox Terriers, 2005
A healthy, vigorous litter of pups is born. It’s so satisfying to watch them as they squirm their way along the mother’s body, latch on to a nipple and begin to suckle greedily. We can relax now – the pups are fine and mom is fine – the job is done.
But wait, over the next couple of days, one or more pups develop the raspy sounds of inhalation pneumonia and quickly fade and die despite our many efforts. Sound familiar? I think fading puppy syndrome has happened to all breeders, especially those of us who breed Toys. Usually these puppies are perfectly healthy with no apparent physical problems. At the first signs of a rasp, I have looked for a cleft palate and if there is none, put the pup on Amoxicillin and tube fed when needed. Sometimes, the pup would pull through but more often, not. Fading puppies are heartbreaking and exhausting, but a fact of life for a breeder.
I am most fortunate to have a veterinarian who listens. She takes the time to discuss diagnoses and treatment with me and we kick around ideas to find the best mainstream course of treatment and consider any alternatives. The last time I had a fading puppy, I had kept it alive for 5 days when I noticed it was very dehydrated. I was out of Ringer’s so brought the pup in to the vet clinic for immediate treatment. We hydrated and tube fed the pup and I went home with a bag of Ringer’s. I had been trying from the beginning to get the pup to nurse on mom, a syringe, a nipple, anything! but it refused to suck and had to be tube fed. The pup made it two more days.
Frustrated, I stopped by the clinic after hours to discuss this latest "fading puppy" defeat with Dr. Amy. I brought up the problem of the pup not sucking and Amy told me that the swallow reflex is the first thing to go when an animal or human become dehydrated. She went on to say that, sadly, this is why so many elderly people in nursing homes die – they become dehydrated, cannot swallow, liquid goes into the lungs rather than down the esophagus and inhalation pneumonia develops.
Well, if I were a cartoon character, there would have been a huge light bulb over my head! How often do we check newborn puppies for dehydration? Think about it.
Many times a pup crawls behind mom or she lies on one and it cannot get around her to nurse. If we see this, we pick up the pup and put it back in front with the others without checking for any signs of dehydration. The pup is wriggling, looks fine, but could very well be in the first stages of dehydration or what for lack of a better term, we call "fading puppy." Newborns can go downhill so quickly in the first few days. I talked this over with my vet and she agreed that this might actually be the answer to many cases where a seemingly healthy pup suddenly fails to thrive and just fades away despite our best efforts.
Awareness of the connection between dehydration and inhalation pneumonia may help us save some of those healthy pups who inexplicably die. It takes only seconds to check for dehydration and only a few minutes for a quick tube feed which will put the pup back on track. If we make this a habit with newborn litters, we can give all the pups an equal chance at life and save ourselves a lot of heartbreak in the process. Just think how many lives, how many fading puppies we can save!