Select Page
Home 9 Breeder Education Home 9 Fading Puppies

Fading Puppies

by Theresa Mullen, Terrylane

One of the things that I am very happy about in the course of time that I have been breeding Dobermans is that I have had few problems with weak puppies whether at birth or developing problems shortly thereafter as a newborn. When problems did arrive it was critical that something be done immediately.

Newborns can and are often born in a weak state, especially after a long labor with a big litter delivery.  When the uterus is contracting it prevents the placental blood exchange between the dam and puppy.  This is the life line of oxygen, glucose and clearing the puppy´s system of toxins.  Every time the placenta is squeezed the puppy recovers shortly thereafter when the blood starts flowing again.  Sometimes the puppy is born with a depleted store of energy which is circulating glucose in its bloodstream and it’s imperative that the breeder watch for symptoms of this (which mimics many serious conditions that are not easily treated).

Observation and measurement of the puppies is the breeder´s greatest asset when assisting at the whelping and for the first crucial week afterwards. This is when the puppy is most vulnerable to subtle things happening and these changes can be pretty imperceptible.  The loss of body weight is somewhat normal shortly after birth as they are `wet´ and this does add some weight to them.  It is important that you identify each puppy with a system (colored ribbons for example) however and weigh each pup morning and night. Many breeders think they have a good eye for observing the weight and condition of a newborn but it’s a critical thing when you’re talking about grams of weight making the difference in living or dying.

Dehydration and hypoglycemia and infection and being `too hot´ and being `too cold´ are the top killers of puppies and these are all conditions that can be observed and corrected or treated quickly.

It’s my opinion that most `fading puppies´ fall into one of these conditions … but is usually not observed quickly enough and acted upon.   A puppy that has a `congenital´ condition at birth, whether you can see it physically or whether it’s systemic and internal, is not going to be revived and saved.  Puppies that develop disease from viruses that cannot be supported by heroic means are not going to revive and survive.  Barring these serious conditions, `fading puppies´ can be treated and can survive.

One other thing that I want to touch on is tube feeding puppies.  The digestion process depends on the acid, enzymes and other fluids necessary for the breakdown of the components of milk.  These are sugar, protein and fat.  don’t overload a tiny newborn´s stomach!!   Too much formula will `delay or stop´ normal digestion … it can even cause great distress (pain) from distension of the stomach and pressure on the surrounding lungs and structures.  You also risk the possibility of the puppy `regurgitating´ some of the formula into the trachea and into the lungs which can cause Pneumonia.  The stomach is small for a reason and that is to allow for a quick breakdown of the milk and to avoid `mechanical´ problems such as milk `back up´ into the lungs.  A newborn puppy that is tube or bottle fed can fade because of the problems listed above so please be careful and sensible!  Small amounts of formula given every couple of hours is the NORMAL nursing pattern … try to mimic this as best you can on ALL puppies if you are going to supplement small or weak puppies.

Nursing vigor is the barometer of the puppies´ general condition.  When a puppy is nursing with vigor and is very strong and direct in its search for the nipple and the `latching on´ reflex is maximized, you know that pup is in great shape. Anything less is a big red flag as this nursing process is easily observable.  If a puppy appears weak at or shortly after birth, the first thing to do is to observe the behavior of the other pups in order to see if this one pup is an isolated condition or if other pups are experiencing distress too.

Assuming you have the puppies and dam at the proper temperature that is optimum for the whelping room, you would look for problems with hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.  A puppy cannot digest properly if too hot or too cold.  The enzymes and fluids necessary to assimilate the milk in its digestive system `do not work´ if the puppy is too hot or too cold.  A temperature comfortable enough for you is your best guide with NO DRAFTS.  Puppies can survive in pretty cool temperatures as long as they can get warmth from the dam and as long as there are no drafts.  Heat on the other hand can `cook´ puppies … they cannot nurse and digest when they are too hot and they quickly dehydrate.  If the dam is too warm, uncomfortable and/or panting, it is too hot for the puppies.  Under most circumstances they don’t need extensive heat lamps when the dam is with them.  If they do need warming, use an INFRARED LAMP which only heats up the puppies and dam, not the rugs and whelping box and surrounding air.

So now you’re looking at some possibilities not related to environment.  The first thing to `attack´ is to determine if the puppy is weak and sluggish because it has no glucose store.  Glucose is the simple sugar that the body uses for fuel … without it EVERYTHING stops!   The puppy gets weak, it stops nursing, it is sleepy and weak, it may whimper and cry or it may just lay there.  Eventually, in a matter of hours, it will go into a coma and die.  Try the `sugar water´ or get a concentrated glucose product.

Remember, reviving weak or sleepy puppies can usually be accomplished by giving them sugar water! Using milk, formula or another concoction like milk will only cause a delay in revival!

Most puppies that are weak at birth can be given a few droppers full of `sugar water´ which I suggest you make by getting uncolored Hummingbird Nectar and mixing it to make a strong syrup. (3 tablespoons water to 1 tablespoon sugar). The Hummingbird Nectar is mostly Dextrose which blends instantly and is closer in makeup to Glucose than Sucrose which is table Sugar.  GLUCOSE is the SUGAR the body uses directly for energy….FUEL!  The closer that the sugar is in composition to glucose the quicker it can be used or there are commercial glucose products in a paste or a gel that you can get … but the point is to get the glucose into the puppy fast!! Lactose, which is milk sugar, must be broken down by the body to use directly … that’s why we use glucose or dextrose!

When a puppy is hypoglycemic, this can mimic MANY problems.  This is when the blood sugar level drops to a level where you see the puppy not being able to nurse, falling off the nipple,  sucking a few `sucks´ and then letting go. Often they are so lacking in circulating glucose that they look and act sick.

TRY THIS FIRST WHENEVER YOU HAVE LETHARGIC PUPPIES.  The dextrose solution goes immediately into the puppies´ bloodstream … it should be stronger within 5 to 10 minutes.  Repeat giving the sugar every 20 minutes until the puppy is strong enough or tube feed the formula adding the sugar water as part of the formula in very small amounts (3 to 5 cc). You should see some progress.

A puppy cannot use the colostrum (first milky fluid after its birth) or milk for fuel when it is in the process of `checking out´ from hypoglycemia because the digestive system is `STOPPED´.   It’s not getting fuel to `run´ and so that is not the `pathway´ to revival.  Glucose or Dextrose can be used immediately and is absorbed starting in the mouth and stomach/intestines without any digestion required.

When the puppy is hypoglycemic it stops nursing, it gets dehydrated, the electrolytes go `haywire´ and you l
ose the puppy. There is a point of `NO RETURN´ with this cycle because once the electrolytes are disturbed, unless they are quickly restored to the viable concentrations in the blood, the puppy WILL die. Because of the size of most puppies, they are not conducive to IV drips so when a puppy is in distress EVERYTHING IS CRITICAL in catching it early.

The other thing that can happen to puppies is that they `PICK UP´ or are infected with some organism or bacteria when coming through the birth canal. There are normally all kinds of bacteria in the vagina … some good and some bad, kept in check by the acidity of the tract and by the bitch’s immune system.

In a weakened puppy that is not getting colostrum, the first fluid excreted by the mammary glands after the whelping (contains antibodies to viruses/organisms that the dam has been exposed to) is not helping the puppy because it is not nursing vigorously.  This leaves the puppy vulnerable to disease.

Also, the bacteria normally found in the vagina can start an infection inn a weakened puppy.  The bacteria are opportunistic organisms looking for the `right´ conditions to grow in and cause disease symptoms.  I would always take a chance on putting the puppy on an antibiotic if the puppy is still not reviving with the glucose and nursing strongly.  You have nothing to Lose except the puppy. I have seen a puppy completely recover from the fading symptoms caused by infection within a 24 to 36 hour period.  Of course, the puppy must be tube fed to sustain it while you are treating it but if nothing else is working, this is your last shot at saving the puppy.

I think most puppies that are presented to the Vet clinic are already in electrolyte imbalance and in serious trouble and may not be revivable.  The puppy is small, its fluid volume is small, therefore the `window of opportunity´ to react and do something is extremely short in duration.

Therefore you MUST WATCH YOU PUPPIES and MOVE QUICKLY if you are to treat something simple in the beginning thus not letting it get to that deadly `point of no return´.

I have never lost a puppy at birth or shortly thereafter because I am fanatical about watching them and treating them IMMEDIATELY.  Observation at and after whelping is your greatest tool as a breeder who is determined to save healthy puppies.

Quoted from “The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog”, by Ann Seranne.

(Ann Seranne finished over 100 Yorkies of her breeding and we all know how small they must be at birth)
As soon as a bitch is approaching parturition, make a five percent glucose solution by mixing one teaspoon white corn syrup into four tablespoons boiled water. Add a few grains each of Sodium Chloride (ordinary table salt) and potassium chloride (salt substitute). This resembles a Ringers Glucose-Saline fluid but, of course, cannot be used for sub-q or IV injection because it is not sterile. Put the solution in a dropper bottle. As soon as a whelp is dry and breathing normally, weigh it on a gram scale and give it five or six drops of the solution for each 100 grams of body weight. It is best to administer the glucose drop by drop on its tongue and not introduce it directly into the stomach by tube. By giving it on the tongue the swallowing reflexes are being developed.

Make sure the puppy has swallowed each drop before the next is given”.  “Every 4 hours weigh the puppy, record the weight, and repeat the glucose, increasing the amount if the puppy wants it to as much as a full dropper or 1cc for each 100 grams of body weight, until the puppy shows signs of gaining weight. Then offer it to the puppy every eight hours until it is 48 hrs. Old. It should not be forced to drink it. Usually even the smallest puppy will begin to take hold and nurse strongly with good suction at the end of 24 hours and will reject the glucose, indicating it is getting sufficient energy and nutrition from it dam. If a puppy does not catch hold at the end of 24 hours, don’t let anyone talk you into giving it milk or milk substitute. Do NOT introduce any supplementary food into the puppy’s system for the FIRST 48 HOURS. Energy and a reserve supply of glycogen is what it needs at this point in its tentative life.

While we’re discussing fading puppies.  I’ve found that sometimes the puppies that don’t gain weight, are those that will often develop eye infections at around 5-6 days before the eyes are open.  If swelling appears and the eyes are still completely sealed, then I take a pair of small suture scissors and make a small slit in the eyelid, allowing the pus to drain out. It’s then possible to keep the drainage flowing without damage to the eye itself.  Once this is done the puppy returns to normal weight gain.

Pat Blenkey, Wrath-Liberator Dobermans

I’ve always used dextrose to revive so called fading puppies, even 35+ years ago when it wasn’t readily available and I had to resort to boiling down sugar to make an emergency type solution.  It’s instant energy and the turnaround is truly remarkable.  The importance of quickly identifying puppies that are in trouble cannot be stressed too strongly.  I constantly monitor our puppies and always look for twitching (activated sleep) or change in position that indicates things are okay.  A puppy that doesn’t twitch or change position raises red flags for me.  As has been stated, never give formula to an ailing or chilled puppy – my benchmark is to stick my little finger in the puppy’s mouth – if it just rolls it’s tongue around and doesn’t latch on, then definitely no formula.

I managed to raise two Dobe puppies that weighed only 3 ounces at birth. The other six puppies were of normal size, weighing 18 ounces or better. Despite their size these teenies were still quite active, but I immediately began the dextrose regimen and they never looked back.  BTW, they both grew to be normal sized dogs.

About 15 years ago I was in my vet’s office where they had a litter of Labs in an incubator.  The staff were so frustrated because the puppies were “fading” despite the fact that they were “being fed” – and they’d already lost 5 of the 11 puppies.  They asked me to take a look at them.  Instead of being round, firm, fully packed and active, the babies were limp with no sucking reflex.  I told them about dextrose and suggested discontinuing the formula.  They all looked at me like I had a hole in my head, but the vet sent out to the drugstore for some powdered dextrose (all that was available at that time).  Of course the puppies turned around very quickly and I was a hero.  A couple of months later I was in the office and overheard the vet lecturing a breeder on the importance of monitoring her puppies and ensuring that she always had dextrose on hand.

I’ve also used the homemade solution, but now use 5% glucose made by Similac for preemie babies.

Another time, we had one puppy who cried and cried constantly like a seagull – had him into the vet and nobody could tell us what was wrong.  We were on the verge of putting him to sleep, but prior to this he’d been such a big, active healthy puppy, that I just couldn’t do it.  We brought him home, kept him in his basket and I fed him with dextrose.  That same evening as I was tubing him I found a large swelling over one eye and when I touched it he screamed.  Out came the scissors and as soon as I opened up the eyelid and expressed all this horrible guck he stopped crying and went to sleep.  It was just like turning off a tap.  Let’s face it, he must have had one heck of a headache.  “Norman” never looked back and lived a long happy life.

Judy Zeigler, Crystal Kennels

I wanted to add something about the hypoglycemia. Newborn pups are like newborn infants in that any stress can cause low blood sugar
s. Low blood sugar if not corrected can cause respiratory arrest hence leading to cardiac arrest. Pups that are chilled or stressed due to birth, tail docking, etc. can drop their blood sugars very quickly. I always keep on hand `Instant Glucose´ which we carry on the ambulance for diabetic emergencies. It´s in a tube and is like a thick clear gel.  It absorbs through the mucous membranes A LOT faster than sugar water solutions.  

Each pup is given a small amount under the tongue at birth, the size of a half of a pencil eraser (only way I can describe it). I do this when I weigh them and mark them. As Theresa points out, they need energy … not necessarily formula, for the first 48 hours. If in the first several days or longer the pup acts lethargic or stressed etc.,  the glucose is given again.

You can get the Instant glucose at any Pharmacy but they may have to order it for you. I have not lost a puppy in 20 years of breeding with using a program that addresses the temperature, glucose and weight gain daily issues.

I have also found that (from a Homeopathic article and an AKC Gazette column) feeding the in-whelp bitch beef or calves liver during the last month of gestation does a great deal towards prenatally attempting to provide an adequate supply of glycogen so if all goes well the whelp is born with a sufficient supply of glycogen stored in his liver to “make it” through the critical First 48 Hours. The amount suggested (and I agree was ideal) was one ounce daily fed raw. The easiest way to manage that was to pull out an ice cube tray and fill each cube compartment with the raw chopped liver and freeze. Each compartment comes out to about 1 ounce of liver! Just pop one out at dinnertime for Mom to be and toss into her food.  I have never had a digestive upset with doing this and it is a little extra insurance for the babies to come. I have done this and had very vigorous neonatal babies.