To help mother dog produce more milk, it's important finding out what is causing her to not produce sufficient milk in the first place. Lactation problems in dogs are not uncommon and it can be very upsetting to the dog owner considering that pups will need milk for nourishment and to thrive. On top of this, puppies need all the immune-boosting help they can get in their very first hours by drinking mother's milk, so time is ticking. Following is information about lactation problems in dogs and ways to help mother dog produce more like by veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
A Lesson in Anatomy
A female dog typically has two rows of mammary glands, and each row has five mammary glands and teats. Each row extends from the chest to the groin.
However, in some individuals, the number of teats may vary from 8 to 12, with 4 to 6 glands accordingly. Usually, larger breeds have five pairs and smaller breeds have four pairs.
In anatomically "normal" female dogs with five pairs of mammary glands, the pattern is: two pairs of thoracic mammary glands and teats, two pairs of abdominal mammary glands and teats, and one pair of inguinal mammary glands and teats.
From a physiological point of view, the role of a dog's mammary glands is to produce milk vital for nourishing the newborn puppies. Generally speaking, a pregnant dog will start producing milk as early as one week prior to delivery to as late as several minutes after whelping (giving birth). There is no universal rule and the lactation period is quite different among individuals.
Physiology of Milk Production in Dogs
Commonly, first-time pregnant dogs start producing milk a week prior to delivery while dogs that have given birth before start producing 1 to 2 days prior to delivery. On the other hand, in some mothers, the puppies need to start nursing for the lactation to begin. Simply put, the pups’ suckling action is necessary to initiate the lactation process.
Regardless of when it started, once the mother dog starts producing milk (lactating), the milk production will continue until the puppies are between 5 and 7 weeks old. As the puppies grow and the nursing intensity and frequency decrease, the milk gradually dries up until the production stops completely.
Before the mother gives birth, a hormone called prolactin is released from the pituitary gland. The role of prolactin is to stimulate milk production. During a natural birth, the pressure on the walls stimulates the release of another hormone, called oxytocin. Oxytocin is thought to be needed for the breasts to release the milk – a state called milk letdown. In a nutshell, two hormones – prolactin and oxytocin, are needed for the mother to produce and secrete milk.
Certainly, milk letdown appears to activate a brain mechanism that helps with bonding. Therefore, pups born by caesarean section are less likely to be rejected by their mothers if they have received oxytocin injection.
When discussing the lactation process, it is only logical to say a word or two about colostrum. Produced within the first 24 hours after whelping, colostrum is the first milk that the mother passes on to her puppies. Colostrum is vital for the pups’ immunity because it contains antibodies against many of the diseases to which the mother has been exposed during her lifetime. Therefore, when the pups drink colostrum, they enrich their immune systems. This type of immunity is called passive immunity.
Lactation Problems in Dogs
Unfortunately, in some cases, the lactation process does not go as smoothly as previously described. The absence of milk letdown is termed agalactia. Agalactia can be caused by failure to either produce milk or release it.
Failure to produce milk is called true agalactia. True agalactia, commonly has a genetic basis and it can be suspected when the dog’s breasts do not fully develop during late pregnancy. The most common causes that lead to failure to produce milk include: inappropriate or insufficient nutrition (lack of calories) during pregnancy and after whelping when the nursing demands are specifically high. Simply put, the mother does not receive enough nutrients to initiate and sustain proper lactation.
Other causes include premature birth – the mother is not ready to start producing milk (from a physiological point),
large litters – the puppies drink more than what the mother can produce, a retained puppy or placenta in the dog's uterus – the retained content inhibits the milk production.
Failure to release milk, as mentioned, is another cause of agalactia in dogs. The reasons why a healthy mother that produces enough milk cannot properly release it are not fully understood. However, since failure to release milk in otherwise healthy mothers appears to be more common among nervous dogs, it is believed that the issue is related with the fight-or-flight response.
In a nutshell, nervousness and fear stimulate the fight-or-flight mechanism which initiates adrenaline release. The released adrenaline inhibits the milk letdown action of oxytocin.
Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland. It occurs when opportunistic bacteria enter the active mammary tissue through the dilated teats or skin scratches and punctures. Mastitis leads to both impaired milk production and letdown.
The local area of the gland is hot, inflamed, reddish-blue and tender. The female may be lethargic, refuse to eat and run a fever. Squeezing the teat canal may produce stringy, blood-tinged discharge. Even if there is milk running from the inflamed teat, pups are unlikely to suckle because of the unpleasant smell and taste.
How to Help Mother Dog Produce More Milk
Pups not receiving enough milk will cry more than usual. Examine each of the mother’s teats to see if they are anatomically correct. Then squeeze each teat to check if they are producing and secreting milk. Sadly, if the mother is not capable of producing milk, there is no treatment that will correct the condition. The only solution is to feed to pups by hand.
When it comes to treatment for agalactia in dogs, it all depends on the causative agent. Following are some way to help mother dog produce more milk. Consult with your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
-Congenital mammary abnormalities cannot be treated. In those cases, once again, the solution is to hand-feed the pups. To prevent similar issues in the offspring, females with such anatomical abnormalities should not be bred.
-If milk is present in the gland but it cannot be released, massaging the teat may stimulate flow. If some teats are flowing and others are not, it is a good idea to place a good "suckler" on the poorly-producing teat. This is because suckling is the best natural stimulus.
-If given within a maximum of 48 hours after giving birth, an oxytocin injection may prove useful and encourage milk letdown.
-In nervous mothers, the administration of tranquilizers, in addition to relaxation, indirectly increases the milk production.
-Certain drugs, like metoclopramide, improve the milk production by increasing the secretion of prolactin. However, it should be noted that the metoclopramide must not be used without approval from a licensed vet. That is because metoclopramide may cause either depression or hyperactivity.
-If the lactation problem is due to mastitis, the mastitis should be treated with painkillers, antibiotics and warm compresses. However, the pups should be restrained from suckling until the antibiotic is eliminated from the mother’s body.
-If the cause is poor nutrition or a systemic disease, treating the underlying cause may reverse the lactation problem.
Mothers with failure to produce milk and congenital mammary abnormalities should not be bred in the future. On the flip side, mothers with milk letdown issues may or may not experience the same problems with future litters.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She is a certified nutritionist and is certified in HAACP food safety system implementation.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.