My Dog Won't Feed Her Puppies - Causes and What to Do
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A mother dog's breast milk is essential to her puppies' survival in their first weeks of life. It not only provides them with nutrients, but also key antibodies necessary for developing their immunity. Therefore, if a mother dog is not feeding her puppies or abruptly stops nursing them, this can be serious problem. It most probably indicates a health issue, which you can address with her vet. Depending on the age of the puppies, the mother dog may stop nursing because she is starting to wean them.
In this AnimalWised article we look at why your dog won't feed her puppies, exploring the possible health related causes and what to do to treat them. We will explain other situations in which you may think the mother dog is rejecting her puppies, and what you can do about it. Remember that if a mother dog stops feeding her pups, it is crucial to act quickly, especially if the puppies are very young. If it is not possible for the dog to nurse her puppies for some time, you will have to step in and take over and feed them with a special formula for newborn puppies.
Causes for a mother dog not feeding her puppies
A mother dog does not usually reject her puppies when they need to nurse. If you dog won't suckle her pups the most likely cause is a health problem. This means the mother wants to feed her puppies, but she cannot because it too painful for her to breastfeed. Here are some of the diseases your dog may have contracted and can force her to stop nursing:
- Acute metritis: metritis in dogs is a bacterial uterine infection that usually occurs during labor or postpartum. It can be deadly if it spreads. It causes symptoms such as fever, anorexia and foul smelling vaginal discharge. If a mother dog is infected with acute metritis she will not nurse her puppies. This disease requires urgent veterinary treatment and, in severe cases, the litter will have to be raised on artificial milk formula.
- Eclampsia or milk fever: this condition, also called puerperal tetany, is caused by a dangerous fall in blood calcium in a lactating bitch. A mother dog can get eclampsia if her calcium levels are not sufficient to cover the loss of calcium through breast milk. It usually appears 2-4 weeks after birthing. Key signs include restlessness, lack of coordination, heavy panting, fever, and tremors. Another tell-tale symptom is if the mother dog rejects her pups and refuses to nurse them. Eclampsia in dogs is an emergency and early veterinary intervention is essential. It is often necessary to raise puppies on formula. If breastfeeding continues, the mother dog will have to take a calcium supplement.
- Acute septic mastitis: this is a bacterial infection occurring in one or several of the dog's breasts, which become swollen and very painful. Canine mastitis is one of the most common causes for a mother dog not feeding her pups. Apart from it being too painful for the bitch to nurse, the infection can make her breast milk toxic to her young. The milk may also look different and be rejected by puppies themselves. Once the infection is properly treated, the puppies can start nursing again.
If you notice signs of any of these diseases in your dog, consult the veterinarian as soon as possible. You may have to dry up the mother dog's milk supply to help her recover. If the puppies are newborn or not ready to be weaned, you will have to feed them yourself.
A mother dog may not feed her litter due to other complications not caused by infection. Problems related to milk production can also cause the dog to reject her pups. For example:
- No milk in the teats: a female dog with this problem produces milk, but it does not flow properly from her breasts. This means that the milk cannot reach the puppies. You will have to consult the veterinarian to find out the cause, which is usually related to stress or malformation in the nipple. Some bitches who are not able to express milk on the day of birthing may abandon their litter. This condition can treated by a specialist and must be done quickly to restore breastfeeding as soon as possible.
- Insufficient milk or agalactia: in the case of primary agalactia, the mother dog fails to produce milk. This is a rare disorder, which may be genetic does not have a solution. On the other hand, the bitch may produce an insufficient amount of milk, especially if she has a very large litter. She may reject the puppies or stop nursing before they are full. In such cases, milk production can be increased by improving the mother dog's diet. Consult the vet for more advice, and if they confirm primary or true agalactia in you dog, you will have to feed the puppies using formula.
Finally, we must mention that cesarean birth may affect the establishment of a bond between the mother and her puppies. The intervention involved could hinder her acceptance of the litter, leading the mother dog to reject her puppies when they try to breastfeed.
My dog won't feed her 4-week-old puppies
Although there are people who attempt to wean puppies when they are only a month old, this is not appropriate. Separating puppies from their mother so early not only interferes with breastfeeding - which provides them with key nutrients and antibodies - but also negatively affects their socialization process. This could cause numerous health and behavioral issues. It is very important to allow the puppies to nurse from their mother until they are naturally ready to be weaned.
Now, if the mother dog herself stops feeding her puppies when they are just four weeks old, this is not normal. In fact, it is a clear sign that she is suffering from a problem that prevents her from nursing them. The most likely reasons are the ones mentioned above such as such mastitis (which the pups can cause when push on her breasts with their claws), eclampsia or insufficient milk production. Milk fever or insufficiency, for example, often occur around 3 to 4 weeks after birthing, when the puppies milk intake is at its peak. If you suspect any of these conditions in your dog, you must take her to the vet.
Natural weaning usually occurs when the puppies are two months old, which is the right age to give the puppies up for adoption. In fact, around the two month mark, you may notice the mother dog starts the weaning process herself by nursing the pups for shorter periods of time, or getting up when they try to suckle. If the bitch stops feeding her pups and they are two months or older, this is normal and a sign that she has begun weaning them.
What to do when a mother dog rejects one puppy
In some cases, a mother dog may not feed only one puppy from the litter. This is usually because she notices that there is a problem with them. This may be because of a birth defect which reduces their chances of survival to no more thana few days. The mother dog can sense this and may therefore separate them from the litter or refuse to nurse them. This is because dogs still follow natural instincts which can lead them to sacrifice a weak pup to better the chances of survival for the rest.
For the same reasons, if one of the puppies becomes sick, the mother dog may stop feeding them and push them aside. In both cases we may notice the rejected puppy is smaller, whining or has a different appearance to that of its healthy siblings. While the mother dog's actions may seem cruel to us, we must understand that this is simply a sign of her survival instinct. Of course, we should try to save the sick puppy by taking it to the vet to get a diagnosis. In cases to where the pup can be cured, you will probably have feed it with artificial milk yourself.
Why does my dog bite her puppies when they try to feed?
As the puppies grow, maternal rejection will more likely be due to weaning. A typical example is the mother dog who does not want to feed her 2-3 month old pups. As we have explained, this indicates that the puppies are ready to be weaned and it has nothing to do with illness in either the mother or the litter. In addition, by this time, it is common to observe that the dog leaves her puppies alone for longer, because she considers that they should already start learning to fend for themselves.
If the puppies have not been given up for adoption after two months, you may observe that the mother dog grunts or bites at pups who try to suckle from her. This is part of a puppy's natural education and the mother dog's way of forcing it to become more independent. Therefore, you should watch but not interfere unless, of course, the bitch becomes very aggressive or harms the puppies. Keep in mind that this does not usually happen.
What to do if your dog won't nurse her puppies
If we find that the mother dog is not feeding her puppies - and they are under two moths old - your first step should be taking her to the veterinarian. A vet will be able to correctly diagnose the cause. We have seen, most of them are treatable. However, in some situations the mother dog cannot continue nursing because it will endanger her or the puppies. If this is the case, you will have have to take charge of feeding the puppies as well as looking after the mother dog.
To feed the pups you will need a milk formula designed specifically for newborn puppies. You can buy this at specialized stores or at the vet clinic. It is usually sold in solid form, in envelopes to which hot water should be added according to the manufacturer's instructions. The formula will have to be administered using a bottle. Choosing the right puppy formula is the only way to ensure that the puppies receive all the nutrients they need. For more details, consult our article on diet for a prematurely weaned puppy. Of course, consult a vet if you have any concerns or questions.
In addition to feeding them frequently, puppies that have been separated from their mother must be kept warm. During the first weeks of life a puppy cannot regulate its own temperature, so they acquire the temperature of their surroundings. To prevent hypothermia, you must provide the pups with a constant source of heat. Also remember to take extra car when handling newborn puppies as they are fragile creatures, not toys. If you notice any problems or if a puppy refuses the artificial formula, take it to the veterinarian immediately.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Won't Feed Her Puppies - Causes and What to Do, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
- Carlson, L. D., and Giffin, J. M. (2002). Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook. John Wiley & Sons.
- Morris, D. (1993). Dogwatching. Three Rivers Press.