The physically immature puppy is at a distinct disadvantage, because of his low birth weight and lack of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat. He may be unable to breathe deeply, nurse effectively and maintain warmth in his body. His liver-brain ratio may be less than 1.5/1. His birth weight may be 25 per cent below that of littermates. He will not be competitive for nipples (milk), and usually the mother herself will abandon the pup, even kill it. Do not reproach her; this is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the fittest.
The most common cause of subnormal birth weight is inadequate nourishment while in the uterus. When all the puppies are undersize, a poorly nourished bitch is the prime consideration. When only one or two puppies are below par, most likely the fault is one of placental insufficiency due to overcrowding, or a disadvantageous placement of a placenta in the wall of the uterus. These puppies are immature on the basis of their development rather than their age. If they are to survive, they must be separated from the dam and raised by hand, a process, which I will discuss later.
Fading puppy syndrome (FPS)
The puppy inflicted with this ailment would have been quite vigorous and healthy at birth, but then it fails to gain weight, loses strength and vitality, and with that the urge to feed. For want of a better term, the condition is called Fading puppy syndrome. There is no general agreement as to the cause of fading puppies. Some cases may be due to immaturity, others to invisible (not discernible) birth defects, environmental stress, and maternal factors. The syndrome may be reversible, if the cause can be determined and steps taken to correct it.
FPS really occurs more often than we think and might be the most common cause of post-neonatal deaths in puppies.
In passing, I should bring to readers’ attention a similar condition in human medicine, whereby a seemingly healthy baby is found dead in the crib. I think the medical scientists have given this condition a name, ‘Sudden Infant Death Syndrome’ (SIDS).
FPS is a complex, multifactorial disorder, the cause of which is, as I have said, still not fully understood. However, much is known now about environmental risk factors, some of which are modifiable. These include maternal and ante-natal (before birth) elements such as bad treatment of the mother dogs during pregnancy. I don’t quite agree with this argument, because the pups that suddenly die were quite healthy at birth. Emerging evidence seems to substantiate an expanding number of genetic risk factors. Interactions between environmental and genetic risk factors may be of critical importance in determining a puppy’s actual risk of FPS.
From what I have written, it is clear that no practical methods currently exist to identify which pups will die of FPS; nor is there a safe and proven prevention strategy. However, reducing exposure to modifiable risk factors can help to lower the incidence of FPS.
Current challenges include the following of guidelines like those which we have been documenting in these columns over the past few weeks. Your vet can also help in this regard.
Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.