How To Tell If a Newborn Puppy Is Dying

How To Tell If a Newborn Puppy Is Dying

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, they may separate themselves from their 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, they 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 who can’t regulate it themselves already, 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 puppies
Death 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 within 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

You’ve taken all the precautions to protect your litter, but one or more of your pups are failing to thrive. Now, your puppy’s survival depends on the underlying cause for their decline as well as how quickly you begin treatment.

A hypothermic puppy will not feed. So, if you don’t treat hypothermia quickly, your puppy can quickly fall ill with dehydration and hypoglycemia. In order to monitor your pup’s temperature, it’s important to use a rectal thermometer. If your puppy’s body temperature falls below 94°F you need to act fast. You can gradually re-warm your puppy by holding them against your skin and ensuring that their whelping box is around 85°F. Observe any frostbite-like symptoms and take care of them as quickly as possible.

If your puppy is unable to feed on their mother within 12 hours, it’s crucial that you use a colostrum substitute. The mother may be tired from her pregnancy – especially if she faced birthing issues or a cesarean section! A good colostrum supplement should be rich in probiotics, glucose, essential fatty acids, and immunoglobulins. Introduce the correct measurement of the supplement on to 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 them fluids. You should offer fluids, typically in the form of a milk replacer or sugar water, every two hours. Be sure to feed your puppy slowly. Allowing them to drink too quickly can cause choking and aspiration of milk. If your puppy does not respond to treatment, or you do not feel confident enough treating them at home, don’t hesitate to call your vet for advice.

take sick puppy to a vet
Never hesitate to take your newborn puppy to a vet!

If you need quick answers in regard to newborn puppies dying, our Frequently Asked Questions section should have the answers you’re looking for. If in doubt, always contact your veterinarian for advice.

How do You Know if a Newborn Puppy is Dying?

The clinical signs of fading puppy syndrome are often vague. Many puppies with the syndrome, also called “faders”, are born apparently normal. They may be eager to suckle, seem strong, and behave normally. However, they may quickly begin to weaken, become restless, paddle their legs, and lose weight. One of the hallmark signs of fading puppy syndrome is “seagulling.” This is the name given to the weak, high-pitched cry of affected puppies. Faders are also known to stray away from their mother and littermates often. This rapid decline usually occurs between two to ten days after the pup’s birth.

You should monitor your litter’s weight, temperature, and behavior multiple times each day. This will allow you to catch any problems before they become severe. You can take a puppy’s temperature using a rectal thermometer. If your puppy’s temperature falls below 94°F it indicates hypothermia. Newborn puppies should also be weighed daily, preferably at the same time every day. Failure to gain weight is a big indicator that something is wrong with your puppy.

Can a Puppy Survive the Fading Puppy Syndrome?

Whether a puppy survives this syndrome or not ultimately depends on the underlying causes and how quickly the causes are dealt with. Death due to hypoglycemia, dehydration, or hypothermia can occur very quickly. Fortunately, these problems can sometimes be treated if caught early, so telling if a newborn puppy is dying is crucial. If your puppy’s condition further declines, you can’t pinpoint the cause for their sickness, or you are not confident to treat them at home, make sure that you call your vet as soon as possible. Some cases of fading puppy syndrome are caused by infections that require antibiotic treatment from a vet.

Unfortunately, some cases of fading puppy syndrome are not preventable or treatable. Poor mothering, inadequate lactation, congenital abnormalities, and even low birth weight can all leave a puppy vulnerable to fading puppy syndrome. It is not uncommon for puppies to be unresponsive to veterinary treatment, especially in cases where there is no obvious cause for the puppy’s decline.

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, normal pre-weaning losses can reach 30%, with around half of these losses occurring within the first week of the puppies’ lives. As well as this, only half of these puppies die from identifiable causes. This leaves the other half as sufferers of true fading puppy syndrome. In true fading puppy syndrome, there is no identifiable cause of death, and death can occur suddenly with seemingly no 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 die
Pre-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.