Mothers learn to recognize and care for their puppies as they are born. They immediately begin to clean and nurse the pups. This bond sometimes is not as strong when the puppies are born by caesarean section. Such mothers can have difficulty in accepting their puppies for the first 48 hours. This is less likely to happen when some of the puppies are born before the surgery or when they are put to the nipples before the sedation wears off.
A novice mother often has difficulty coping with a litter of squirming puppies for the first few hours. This is understandable. With a little help, she can be shown how to nurse her puppies and keep from stepping on them.
Bitches, which have a great bond to humans, or those ‘spoilt’ female house pets (the ones who believe or have been made to believe that they are humans), sometimes will not care for their puppies until they are cajoled and assisted to suckle their offspring. This is a most interesting phenomenon, because it is revealing that the human-animal bond, for a while at least, supersedes the dog’s natural instinct.
Sometimes, due to a hormonal imbalance, the milk does not come down for the first 48 hours. During this time, the bitch may reject her puppies. Milk can be helped to flow by injecting hormones. Once the milk comes, the puppies are accepted.
A hypothermic puppy, one whose body temperature has dropped below normal due to sickness or constitutional weakness, instinctively is pushed out of the nest. The mother dog might even eat the weak pup. This is nature’s way of culling and ensuring that only the fittest and most deserving will survive.
Other causes of puppy rejection are post-partum infections and complications such as milk fever, mastitis and acute metritis (see the last three columns).
Dams who continue to ignore or reject their puppies sometimes may be helped by tranquilisers. If the problem is due to maternal infection (eg mastitis) then puppies may be removed and reared by hand (we will advise on the hand-rearing of newborn puppies some time soon).
A bitch whelping her first litter should be watched closely. She may accidentally confuse the puppy with the placenta or injure a puppy while attempting to sever the cord and remove the membranes. Breeds with an undershot jaw or a malocclusion (mouth does not close correctly) problem are particularly prone to this difficulty.
A novice dam may attempt to pick up and carry a puppy to some other nest. Do not allow your female to carry puppies around in her mouth as she may become nervous or upset and bite down too hard. Nest-seeking can be avoided if the dam is introduced to her delivery box two weeks before she is due to whelp and required to sleep in it.
In other cases, a nervous, possessive or over-protective dam can injure her puppies out of emotional upset caused by too much handling of the puppies by children or strange people. It is important not to allow visitors for the first three to four weeks – especially in those cases when the bitch is highly-strung, or not well socialized to people.
Finally, I would advise that the owner should give the lactating mother a lot of Tender Loving Care and reinforce her self-confidence with a lot of petting during nursing.
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.