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How To Tell If a Newborn Puppy Is Dying

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Responsible breeders need to identify when a newborn puppy needs help; trying to save puppies lost to "fading puppy syndrome" has a small chance of success.
  • To save a dying puppy, identify the cause of its decline and seek treatment quickly, bearing in mind sometimes, it is untreatable.
  • Clinical signs of fading puppy syndrome can be vague, but breeders should monitor their litter's weight, temperature, and behavior multiple times each day.
  • Newborn puppies dying is sadly common (pre-weaning losses can reach 30%) and poses risks to the mother’s life, but acting quickly and seeking vet advice can help prevent or treat such deaths.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 12 August 2020
Last updated on
Friday 12 May 2023
telling if a newborn puppy is dying
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As a responsible breeder, it’s vital that you can identify when one of your newborn puppies needs your help. This includes telling if a newborn puppy is dying. Unlike with stillborn puppies, you still have a chance (however small) to save them.

During your litter’s first two weeks of life, the puppies are vulnerable to illness and stress since they are unable to regulate their bodies by themselves. This is especially true with a premature puppy. Very young puppies cannot regulate their own temperature, fluids, or energy balance. These factors make puppies vulnerable to death by a variety of causes.

Puppies who die soon after their birth are frequently termed as having “fading puppy syndrome.” The puppies lost to this syndrome may be born apparently normal but quickly decline over two to ten days, sometimes for no identifiable reason. If there is an underlying cause for the puppy’s decline, intervention is sometimes possible. If you notice the mother rejecting a weak puppy, such as the runt of the litter, you must jump in and nurse the rejected dogs yourself by hand.

Signs for Telling if a Newborn Puppy is Dying

Puppies who die soon after birth are frequently called “fading puppies.” There may be a known cause, but approximately 55% of puppies who are lost to this condition have no identifiable cause, so telling if a newborn puppy is dying is not always straightforward. There are four main causes of newborn puppy death.

These four factors are all intertwined; without managing one factor correctly, you will struggle to manage the others. The four problems to be aware of are low body temperature, dehydration, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and missing the “golden window” of colostrum intake.

Inability to regulate body temperature

Your newborn puppy is vulnerable to hypothermia. They rely on warmth provided by their mother in order to maintain their body temperature and should stay close during the first few days of life. However, if your puppy is struggling with fading puppy syndrome, it may separate itself from its mother and littermates. This puts them at risk of hypothermia.

Rectal temperatures below 94°F are life-threatening for newborn puppies. A hypothermic puppy might feel cold to the touch and be lethargic. If your puppy is showing clear signs of hypothermia, it’s imperative that you act quickly. A healthy newborn pup can survive hypothermia if they are re-warmed gradually. It’s important to note that rapidly re-warming a puppy can result in death.


It is vital that your newborn puppy consumes enough milk during the first few days of life. One of the most common signs of fading puppy syndrome is the inability to suckle. If your newborn puppy is unable to suckle, it will quickly become dehydrated and malnourished. To add to this, puppies are unable to regulate their glucose, so prolonged intervals between feedings leave them at risk of hypoglycemia. Not only does this put them at greater risk of dehydration, but it complicates hypothermia as well. Having less water in your system hinders your body’s ability to regulate its own temperature, and for a puppy, this can be fatal.

A dehydrated newborn puppy will have a dry mouth and sticky saliva. Their skin may also lose elasticity. In hydrated puppies, the skin quickly springs back into its original shape when pinched. When a puppy is dehydrated, the opposite happens. If your newborn puppy is dehydrated, use a small bottle or eyedropper to offer fluids every two hours. You can use a milk replacer or sugar water to do this.


Hypoglycemia is also known as having low blood sugar. Because puppies have limited fat reserves, cannot fully regulate their glucose, and have a high requirement for glucose, they are very vulnerable to hypoglycemia. A puppy’s glycogen reserves are quickly depleted after birth, leaving a newborn puppy in need of an early intake of nutrients. Unfortunately, this means that failure to nurse can lead to hypoglycemia by the time a puppy is just two days old. In addition, it is important to note that, if too hot or cold, a puppy cannot digest their food properly. This can also quickly lead to hypoglycemia.

Signs of hypoglycemia in puppies include loss of appetite, lethargy, trembling, weakness, and seizures. Your puppy may also have discolored gums and skin. Responsible breeders should proactively look for any signs of hypoglycemia in their litters. Death can occur within a few hours if hypoglycemia is severe. Getting enough sugar into your puppy is the only way to help a puppy in this state. You will need to give a dropper of sugar water every 15 to 20 minutes. Boil three tablespoons of water to one tablespoon of sugar and ensure that the mixture is warm, not cold.

hypoglycemia in puppiesDeath can occur within a few hours if hypoglycemia is severe.

Immature Immune System

Colostrum is the milk that a bitch produces in the first few hours of whelping. This milk passes maternal antibodies to the litter. If consumed in time, the puppies will benefit from better immunity to a range of diseases. The flip side to this is that there is a time limit. Your newborn puppy’s intestinal walls will become unable to absorb colostrum after 12 hours. So, if your newborn puppy fails to nurse within this time frame, you will need to take action fast.

In 2014, Royal Canin studied the correlation between neonatal death rate and the number of antibodies the puppies had at two days old. Low antibody levels at this age are very strongly correlated with early death. This is because low antibody levels leave them vulnerable to routine viruses and bacteria to which puppies are exposed to in the birth canal or after birth. The most common culprits are E. Coli, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and Herpesvirus.

How to Save a Dying Puppy

If your puppy is not thriving despite taking all necessary precautions, it is important to determine the underlying cause and start treatment quickly to increase the chances of survival.

A puppy with low body temperature (hypothermia) may not eat, and if left untreated, it can lead to dehydration and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). To monitor your puppy’s temperature, you can use a rectal thermometer. If your puppy’s body temperature drops below 94°F, you need to act quickly. You can gradually warm your puppy by holding them against your skin and ensuring their whelping box is around 85°F. Look out for any symptoms of frostbite and address them promptly.

If your puppy is unable to nurse within 12 hours, it is essential to use a colostrum substitute. The mother may be exhausted from pregnancy and delivery, particularly if she had birthing complications or a cesarean section. A suitable colostrum supplement should contain probiotics, glucose, essential fatty acids, and immunoglobulins. Administer the correct dosage of the supplement on the back of your puppy’s tongue and allow them to swallow.

To treat dehydration in puppies, use an eyedropper or small bottle to offer fluids every two hours. Fluids can be in the form of milk replacers or sugar water. Feed your puppy slowly to avoid choking or milk aspiration. If you feel unsure or if your puppy is not responding to treatment, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian for advice.

If you have any questions about newborn puppies dying, our Frequently Asked Questions section can provide answers. However, if you are uncertain or worried, always contact your veterinarian for advice.

take sick puppy to a vetNever hesitate to take your newborn puppy to a vet!

How do You Know if a Newborn Puppy is Dying?

Fading puppy syndrome is a condition that affects some newborn puppies. It can be difficult to detect because the puppies may seem normal at birth, but can quickly start to weaken, lose weight, and become restless. One of the signs of fading puppy syndrome is a weak, high-pitched cry. Affected puppies may also stray away from their mother and littermates. This usually happens between two to ten days after birth.

To ensure that your litter of puppies stays healthy, it’s important to monitor their weight, temperature, and behavior multiple times a day. You can use a rectal thermometer to check your puppy’s temperature. If it falls below 94°F, your puppy may have hypothermia. Weigh your puppies daily at the same time every day. Failure to gain weight could be a sign that something is wrong. By monitoring your litter regularly, you can catch any problems before they become severe.

Can a Puppy Survive the Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Whether a puppy survives fading puppy syndrome ultimately depends on what’s causing it and how quickly it’s addressed. Some common causes like low blood sugar, dehydration, or low body temperature can be treated if caught early. So it’s important to keep a close eye on your newborn puppy and seek veterinary attention right away if you notice any concerning symptoms.

Unfortunately, some cases of fading puppy syndrome can’t be prevented or treated. It can happen when a puppy doesn’t get enough milk from its mother or is born with health issues. Even with veterinary treatment, some puppies may not recover, especially if the cause of their decline is unclear.

How do You Revive a Dying Puppy?

If your puppy has no pulse it’s vital that you give CPR quickly. Have another person call your vet immediately if possible. You will need to lower the newborn puppy’s head to assist with fluid drainage. Use a suction bulb to carefully remove any excess fluid from the nose, mouth, and throat. Once the airways are clear, you will need to provide air to your puppy. Close your mouth around their mouth and nose and deliver two to three small breaths. Be careful to not fully exhale as a newborn puppy’s lungs are very small and prone to damage. You must also be aware that some diseases can be transmitted to humans through contact with a puppy’s fluids.

Next, check for a heartbeat. Feel the chest walls between your fingers or use a stethoscope. If there is no heartbeat, place the thumbs and forefingers of both of your hands around the puppy’s chest. You’ll need to place them just behind the puppy’s front legs. From here, compress the puppy’s chest one to two times per second. This may seem excessive, but a newborn puppy’s normal heart rate is 120 to 180 beats per minute. Until you receive a response from your puppy, administer small breaths to their nose and mouth every 20 seconds.

Why is my Newborn Puppy Having Seizures?

Seizures may be a sign of hypoglycemia in newborn puppies. This is because substantial changes in blood sugar can affect the excitability of nerve cells in the body. As well as this, your puppy’s brain needs glucose to function properly, but it cannot store it efficiently yet. Thus, a sudden lowering of a puppy’s blood sugar can cause seizures regardless of whether or not they have epilepsy, and the brain is easily affected. These seizures may involve the entire body and can include a loss of consciousness. Other clinical signs of hypoglycemia in puppies include muscle tremors, weakness, altered mentation, and lack of appetite.

With that being said, not all seizures in newborn puppies are caused by hypoglycemia. Other possibilities include neonatal encephalopathy, liver shunts, and hydrocephalus. Infections whilst in the uterus or after birth can lead to brain damage, thus causing seizures and coordination difficulties.

How Often Do Newborn Puppies Die?

Sadly, up to 30% of newborn puppies may die before weaning, with half of these deaths occurring within the first week of life. Sometimes, the cause of death is not identifiable and is known as fading puppy syndrome. In these cases, death can happen suddenly without warning signs.

Like other animals that have multiple births, it is not unusual for dogs to give birth to stillborn puppies or to have puppies who die shortly after birth. Sometimes a stillborn pup can disrupt the birthing process, causing dystocia. Unfortunately, some breeds are at an increased risk for dystocia, resulting in the need for a caesarian section. If a caesarian section is performed too late it can result in the death of the puppies.

how often newborn puppies diePre-weaning losses can reach up to 30%.

Telling if a newborn puppy is dying can be very daunting for any breeder. However, it’s important to know the signs so that a struggling puppy can be helped as quickly as possible. If you suspect fading puppy syndrome, make sure that you act quickly and call a vet for advice. If you have just been through such a traumatic experience, please read through our article on the loss of a pet.

3 comments on “How To Tell If a Newborn Puppy Is Dying”

  1. kimie CLYNE

    my puppy what s are 9 days old there hair is matted with dry patches of skin
    also some puppys mouths look dry and sticky
    the mom is pulling back from them not feeding them that often
    what should i do

  2. Maggie

    It sounds somewhat like they are dehydrated but if mom is pulling away she knows something is already wrong. I read to give them sugar water every 2 hours but make sure it is warm. Said to boil for a minute or so,it is on this site so you should find it and read. They very much need to stay warm and have a milk replacer ready to go. You might need to do this right away to save them. Have a weak one right now under my shirt trying to warm because they had pushed it out again. Some are just weak and can’t suck enough to feed themselves but if they are dehydrated it can be the death of them. I hope you find all the info you need to save them. I have been using goats milk because there was no puppy formula to be found. Good luck to you!

  3. Kenya

    My pups are 1 month old and 1 fell out of my sons hands. She was limp for a while with pale gums. About a couple minutes later she was able to get up and walk around a little bit but went back to laying down and she has sticky saliva. Heart rate seems normal and breathing seems short fast breaths like she just ran a mile. I’m so hurt. Scared she will die.

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