Evaluating fading puppies and kittens


Evaluating fading puppies and kittens

When these feeble neonates arrive in your clinic, quickly and systematically assessas many variables as possible that may be contributing to their dwindling condition.
Nov 01, 2005

Time is of the essence when working with a fading puppy or kitten. If an owner calls about such a case, schedule the examination immediately, and instruct the owner to bring the dam as well as the entire litter for evaluation. Once the owner arrives, a systematic evaluation consisting of a history, physical examination of the litter and the dam, and specific diagnostic tests will help you narrow the list of possible causes quickly, so you can initiate treatment.


Often, the history is remarkably short for fading puppies and kittens. Breeders should bring records of weight gain since birth and any other data they have collected. Assess the dam's exposure to other dogs or cats during the last third of gestation as well as the travel history of housemates. Questions about husbandry are particularly important. Ask about the location and temperature of the whelping or queening box and its exposure to other animals. In purebred cats, knowing the blood types of the sire and dam is crucial.

Also ask the owners about the nursing and activity of the litter. Normal puppy and kitten neonates sleep and nurse.1 They spend most of their time in a group and cry only briefly.2 Neonates that lie away from the group, cry constantly, are restless, or fail to nurse should be examined at once. The amount of activity increases dramatically after the second week of life.2 By the age of 5 or 6 weeks, sleeping alone can be normal.2,3

Obtain the dam's recent history, including the ease of whelping, appetite, parasite control, diet, vaccinations, mothering skills, and any medications. Family history of neonatal survival can be useful, as can pedigree analysis.


Examine all neonates in a litter with even a single affected member. While the bitch or queen should be examined, she will often become distressed when the neonates are handled, so keep her in a separate room while examining the neonates. Bringing the dam and neonates into a clinical setting presents some risk of disease exposure. Assess and discuss this risk with the breeder or owner. Minimize contagious exposure by choosing less busy appointment times, using a special examination room, and considering a house call.

Table 1. Equipment for Neonatal Evaluation
Most equipment needed for neonatal examination is readily available in general practice (Table 1). A warmed table is vital to prevent any additional hypothermia in the neonates. Place thick warmed towels over the examination table surface. The examination room should not have recently housed a patient of the same species with an infectious disease. Using a diffuser of synthetic dog attachment pheromone (D.A.P—Ceva Santé Animale; Veterinary Products Laboratories) in the examination rooms may help calm the bitch and offspring. Feliway (Ceva Santé Animale; Veterinary Products Laboratories) can be used to help calm the queen, but as it is not an attachment pheromone, it will not have the same effect.

Body weight

First assess body weight. Because a weight gain of 5% to 10% a day in puppies and 7 to 10 g/day (0.25 oz to 0.35 oz/day) in kittens is normal, knowing the birth weight should allow assessment of the neonate's weight gain.4 I recommend that breeders weigh neonates twice a day and bring them in for immediate examination if normal daily weight gain does not occur. In my clinical experience, this has resulted in a much higher survival rate than waiting for additional clinical signs to appear. If neonates are similar in appearance, they should be identified in a manner that allows easy differentiation, such as with colored collars.


Rectal temperature can be measured with a digital thermometer even in neonatal kittens. A dry neonate immediately postpartum has an average rectal temperature of 96 F (35.6 C).5 During the first week rectal temperature is 95 to 98 F (35 to 36.7 C), and during the second and third weeks it is 97 to 100 F (36.1 to 37.7 C).6 By the fourth week temperatures match those in adults.