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Why Do Dogs Abandon Their Puppies?

If you are wondering why mother dogs abandon their puppies consider that there are many dog behaviors that may appear difficult to comprehend but dogs have their own reasons for. When we think about dogs abandoning their puppies, we may be referring to two different forms of "abandonment." One is the natural process where puppies grow up and mother dog seems to be less and less interested in them, the other is the actual "abandonment" seen when a mother dog rejects her puppies when they are still in need of her care. In this article, we will provide possible explanations for both of these scenarios.

Natural Weaning Process

When a litter of puppies are born, the pups are pretty much in a helpless state. Unable to see, hear, eliminate on their own and unable to regulate their body temperatures, pups, as an altricial species, are heavily reliant on their mothers for survival purposes during their first weeks of life. On top of that, mother dogs will bond strongly with their pups courtesy of a powerful cocktail of hormones.

The hypothalamus is the brain's section responsible for triggering maternal behavior. All it takes is the sight, smell and scent of a nursing pup for the hypothalamus to switch on potent hormones from the pituitary gland. The hormone oxytocin is responsible for triggering contractions that help with the expulsion of the after birth, prompt the release of milk and foster the strong bond between momma and her pups . The hormone prolactin instead regulates milk production and stimulates maternal protective behavior, which triggers mom to guard the pups, keep them warm and protect them from an dangers, explains veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman.

Once the puppies' teeth start erupting, they start non-intently hurting mother dog when nursing. Mother dog therefore starts getting more and more reluctant to nurse. This triggers the pups to look for other sources of food. Puppy mush strategically left out by the breeder for the pups to investigate, will attract the pups who start tasting it either by accident or because it smells good. Soon, the pups will rely more and more on the mush rather than milk and start becoming more independent. After mother dog has protected, guided and provided guidance to her pups, she will start fostering independence by leaving the whelping area for longer and longer times. By 60 days (8 weeks) the pups are now eating kibble, have learned important life lessons and are ready to go to their new homes. Just like kids go to college and mothers say goodbye to their youngsters, mother dogs have not abandoned their pups but have simply accomplished their goal of successfully raising pups.

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Aftermath of C- Section

In some cases, mother dogs may not be accepting of their puppies because of a Cesarean section. Since mother dog is prevented from naturally delivering the pups, the normal olfactory, visual and tactile stimuli that lead to bonding are thwarted and failure for an early bond between mom and pups can lead to disastrous consequences, explains Nicholas Dodman. The effects of this seem to affect the most mother dogs who are scheduled to have a C-section even before labor begins such as in those breeds that must be delivered by C-section due to conformation issues, versus dogs who have had a puppy or more and encounter a problem requiring a C-section so to continue to whelp more. In this latter case, mother dog is aware of labor starting versus a dog who wakes up from a C-section and is suddenly a mom. Not surprisingly, in some cases, dogs who undergo a C-section may have a hard time accepting her pups

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One way to help these mothers bond to the pups and prevent problems is to gather a few large towels and use them to rub the pups as they are born and then present the pups placed on these towels to the mom. Because these towels are coated in amniotic fluid, blood and other birth fluids, the mom has the chance to smell and recognize her babies. Positive feedback by letting mother dog know she's being a good girl and loads of encouragement when she gives signs of accepting the pups is helpful. Also, according to the Doberman Pinscher Club of America, it helps not to clean the pups with soap or baby wipes, as mom needs to sense her smell on the pups. Problems seem to arise when the pups are squeaky clean and smell like a vet's office. Some moms may take a day or two to recuperate after the surgery and accept the pups. Allowing the pups to nurse on her can help release some maternal hormones. Close supervision is important. In severe cases, pups may need to be reared by the owners.

Puppies with Problems

In some cases, mother dogs may reject puppies who have physical problems. These physical problems are not always visible to the dog owner. In this case mother works on her instinct to care of the most healthy puppies. If you notice mother dog nudging away a puppy and the puppy is crying, it's time to intervene. Such puppy needs to stay warm, be fed and be stimulated to eliminate. Seeing the vet immediately is important to determine if the pup is suffering from a bacterial infection, a congenital defect or some other disease.

Mothers With Problems

On the other hand, sometimes mother dogs who reject their pups are suffering from some form of illness. If mother dog won't eat, appears lethargic and shows no interest in the pups, it could be she won't care for them simply because she doesn't have the strength. Such dogs and their litter should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. There are several health conditions that can affect mother dog after whelping. Mastitis, the infection of the mammary glands may cause painful nursing and a painful association with the pups. Not only, milk from a dog with mastitis can be harmful to the pups. Another complication is a retained placenta or a retained fetus which can cause a serious infection requiring care. Also, milk fever, also known as eclampsia, occurs when mother dog is depleted of calcium. Symptoms start about 3 weeks after whelping and include problems standing, stiff gait, restlessness, fever, panting, little to no interest in the pups, muscle spasms and seizures.

Poor Mother Instincts

Last but not least, dogs may reject their puppies because of poor mothering instincts. This can happen with very young, inexperienced dogs who are bred on their first heat. Such dogs should be separated from their pups if they show an intent to harm and should not be bred anymore. In some cases, stress can be a culprit for mothers who are not caring for their young. Try to keep mom and pups in a quiet area away from visitors and the hustle and bustle of people and other pets coming and going. Some mothers may reject some puppies simply because they have a large litter and are struggling to care for them all. In such a case, it helps to help mom by bottle feeding the rejected pups.

As seen, there are many possible reasons as to why a mother dog may reject and abandon her pups. In some cases, the rejection is just temporary, in other cases it's long term. In temporary cases, it's important to never leave mother and pups alone until normal maternal behaviors starts. In the meanwhile and in long term cases, you will have to intervene to tube feed the pups, keep them warm and help them eliminate until they can do on their own.

Did you know? According to a study conducted by Odendaal and Meintjes in 2003, friendly contacts between humans and dogs released oxytocin in both species.

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