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Fading Puppy Syndrome

by Val Brown ch. M. I. A. C. E. DBC. – Mertrisa Collies
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I have been approached by Dogs Worldwide for them to reproduce this article for Dr Dog concerning my experiences with fading puppies and bacterial infections in bitches. This article was originally produced in 1991.

I have had, over the years, many problems with litters, whelpings and matings and have discovered through heartache that 90% of them were related to bacterial infections. At times it has been very expensive with special disinfectants and drugs, but I have irradiated the cause of the fading puppies from my kennel and have reduced the incidence of related symptoms such as bitches not having seasons, ill coloured or irregular seasons, bitches not conceiving and poor fertility of stud dogs.

The term “Fading Puppies” has, I feel, been viewed by many veterinary practises in a similar way to that of Cot Deaths in human infants, because for the most part the cause was unknown. It was fifteen years ago that I first encountered fading puppies. After having bred successfully for some years I began to lose what seemed quite healthy puppies. They would become weak not suckling, no matter how much I assisted, have muscle spasms, stiff extended limbs and apparent heart seizures. Whole litters were dying for no apparent reason and it was only a chance visit by a locom vet that led to my being able to cure and protect future litters.

I was desperate for help with one particular litter. Both the pups and the bitch were dying and the veterinary practise had tried everything. The new locum vet paid me a house call and as a last result suggested we try synulox. The bitch was given a subcutaneous injection and the pups were given oral drops because he was concerned that the shock of injections would kill off already weakened pups. The results were quite remarkable. Within hours the pups had revived and the bitch began to show signs of recovery.

It soon became apparent that the syndrome was in fact caused mainly by bacterial infection or rather an imbalance of bacteria. In a normal healthy bitch the vagina harbours a series of bacteria including staphylococci, streptococci, (including Beta – haemolytic streptococci (BHS) ), escherichia coli (E. Coli), proteus etc, the level of each bacteria being controlled by the others to sustain a regulated balance. The problem of fading puppies arises when one bacteria becomes more prominent, causing an imbalance between the various bacteria however slight it may be.

There may be no obvious outward signs and it is therefore necessary to obtain vaginal swabs for laboratory testing as soon as the bitch is in season. It is worth noting that dogs can also suffer from the infection, causing poor fertility and it is necessary to obtain throat and sheath swabs to detect the infection, as these dogs can pass the imbalance during mating, thus transmitting the disease to otherwise healthy bitches.

For bitches with a history of problems it is wise to monitor their oestrous cycle, checking the vagina daily. The normal discharge for a bitch in season is clean blood red at the onset changing to clear or pinkish red as the cycle changes. An infection will cause a change in colour or density of the discharge to varying degrees depending on the level or type of bacterial contamination.

For suspect bitches I usually start a course of synulox immediately stopping two days after mating. A daily examination of the vagina during pregnancy will indicate any further problems. If a discharge appears start another 5 day course of synulox. At about 4 weeks a pregnant bitch should normally have a clear discharge. It is a sure indication that the bitch is in whelp and it will last throughout the rest of the pregnancy, but if the colour of the discharge changes another 5 day course is advisable. From the fifty ninth day I administer a further 5 days of synulox in order to cover the time of whelping. This prevents the transmission of toxins within the birth canal from contaminated foetal fluids. It also prevents bacterial contamination of the milk which causes Mastitis usually resulting from a streptococci infection.

Once all the whelps have been cleaned and dried and the bitch has been properly attended to I start the synulox oral drops, giving each pup one drop twice daily for 7 days.

On one occasion we had a severe bacterial infection which was leading to a pyometra during early pregnancy. The bitch was in a life threatening situation and due to the high risk through operation we controlled her condition with synulox. She was administered a high dosage for the first week dropping to the normal dosage (1 tablet twice daily) for the remaining duration of pregnancy, increasing the dosage again for the last ten days. She produced five live puppies which were quite lethargic until given the synulox oral drops. Once the level of synulox had been reduced it was apparent that the bitch would have to be spayed, from which she made a full recovery. Although I would never knowingly subject a bitch to this extent it does show how safe for mum and pups the drug is.

In my opinion there is no substitute for synulox oral drops for puppies, but allergies to synulox in adults will necessitate a change to a suitable compatible drug to synulox i. e. ampicillan (penbritin) clamoxyl etc.

There are other aspects that have to be born in mind. The infection is contagious and therefore all stock must be considered at risk. Also contaminated dog runs lawns etc must be treated with suitable disinfectants such as formula H or Virkon. Whelping boxes and bedding are also at risk and must be cleansed and disinfected.

It is important to note that spade bitches can carry the bacterial imbalance so they must not be over looked as a source of reinfecting others. They should be treated in the same way as all the others.

It is very easy to pick up the infection at dog shows and we are very careful about letting our dogs sniff others or the ground.

We have found it very important to keep a check on our stud dogs. It is very easy for a popular stud dog to pass infections or to catch infections. A stud dog if not used very often seems to be able to correct an imbalance given enough time, whereas a bitch will be prone to infection on every season.

If a stud dog has a discharge from his sheath you can give a course of “Synulox Intramammary Suspension” (obtainable in a 50mg syringe dispenser) and tablets for seven days. If a bitch is due to be mated during this time then a course of synulox tablets should be given to her to cover the time of mating. With my own stud dogs I wash their underneath before and after a mating with an antiseptic disinfectant. If I am suspicious that the bitch is carrying an infection I will give my dog a short course of synulox tablets.

The bacteria will, depending at which stage the imbalance occurs, cause an in whelp bitch to resorb or abort pups or to have still born pups or most commonly fading pups. Once a bitch has been mated I stop showing her. I never show an in season bitch, not only because of the distraction to dogs but also because of the chance of infection.

I also try to breed from a chosen bitch as early as possible and finish her breeding program in one go, for example if I decide to have two or three litters from one bitch I would like to start at around fifteen months and have all her litters on successive seasons. Most of my bitches go around nine months between seasons so they recover their health between litters. I have found that having breaks between litters can cause problems especially as the bitches get older.

I have been asked if stress perhaps can cause an imbalance. I do not believe this to be a cause of the imbalance occurring. However, I do believe stress causes problems with ovulation
. I have found that certain bitches do not seem to conceive many puppies if I use an outside stud dog. The car journey and strange surroundings seem to upset the bitches, especially if they are nervous and interferes with their ovulation. I have bitches that have consistently missed to proven stud dogs or have had only one or two pups, but when mated to my own dogs produce litters of eight or nine, one bitch even having a litter of eleven.

I hope that this article will be of as much use to those who are experiencing difficulties, as it has been to other breeders and vets alike who have contacted me in the past.

Give it a try, after all if your puppies are fading what have you got to lose. There are many ways of protecting your kennels. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help.


This article should be considered as a guide for constructive information and not for administrating specific dosages of drugs. Please consult your veterinary surgeon offering this article for consideration.
© 1991 Val Brown

Finally a book of great value to all breeders is “The Book of The Bitch” a complete guide to understanding and caring for bitches written by J. M. Evans & Kay White. Published by Henston Ltd, Friary Court, High Street, Guilford.