"Warning markers of a dam rejecting her litter
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"Warning markers of a dam rejecting her litter

Dogs
Health & Safety

Most dogs that are bred from will care for and raise their litter instinctively, and will dedicate all of their time to caring for their young and meeting all of their needs during their first few weeks of life. A dam rejecting her entire litter is rare, and rejecting one pup from the litter slightly more common, but still unusual-and this is a situation that few breeders or owners of a dog with puppies will ever have to face.

However, being a good mother does not come naturally to all dogs, and there are a range of different factors that can lead to a dam rejecting her litter-and if this does happen, it is important to intervene quickly in order to save the puppies, and ensure that they don’t die of neglect, or be killed by the dam herself in a worst-case scenario.

In order to be able to intervene, which may require removal of the rejected puppy or litter from the dam entirely, you must first be able to spot the signs that the dam is either not interested in caring for her pups, or is potentially going to turn on them and harm them.

In this article, we will look at some of the main warning markers of a dam rejecting her litter or one puppy from within the litter, in order to pre-empt a worst-case scenario. Read on to learn more.

Why would a dam reject her litter?

Many people find it somewhat shocking that a dam would not care for her pups or would even actually try to hurt them, but there are a huge range of different factors and scenarios that can lead to this happening. Some of the most common reasons for a dam rejecting her litter include:

  • Illness or poor health in the dam.
  • A weak or unhealthy litter or puppy may cause the dam to reject it, or try to kill the weak members to increase the chances of survival of the other pups.
  • Delivery by caesarean section, which is often necessary in breeds with large heads and small hips such as the French bulldog, can increase the chances of a dam rejecting the pups. This is because the dam may not recognise her pups, and because the process of natural delivery causes a flood of hormones that trigger maternal urges, which may be bypassed in the case of caesarean delivery.
  • Mastitis or anything else that causes the dam pain when feeding or caring for the pups can lead to her rejecting them.
  • Over-handling of the litter by strangers.
  • Breeding from a dam that is too young raises the chances of the litter being rejected.
  • Stress and anxiety on the part of the dam, which can often be caused by their living situation, handling or the presence of other dogs and people can also lead to abandoning a litter.

Even in the case of the scenarios outlined above, the vast majority of dams will still care for their litter properly, but if any of the above are relevant to your own dam, it is important to be even more vigilant about potential problems.

Warning markers of a dam rejecting her litter

Generally, if a dam is going to reject her litter (or one or more pups from within her litter) this will happen fairly soon after delivery-either she will not show an interest and begin caring for them at all, or the problem will arise within the first week of their lives. The older the pups get, the lower the chances of a later rejection are. However, if the dam becomes ill or one of the pups are ailing, she may still reject them later on.

Some of the most important warning markers to watch out for include:

  • Showing little to no interest in the puppies, and not attempting to groom them, move them around, or feed them.
  • Leaving the nesting box and the pups for longer than is normal, or being reluctant to return to the pups if they cry or otherwise signal a need for attention.
  • Pups making a lot of noise such as whining and crying, which indicates that they are unhappy and usually, not being fed.
  • Being unwilling to offer up her teats to feed the pups, and not attempting to manoeuvre the pups around so that they can feed.
  • Continually pushing one particular pup away in favour of feeding others.
  • Snapping or growling at the puppies, particularly when they are very young.
  • Snarling at the puppies, being rough with them or outright attacking one of more of them-remove the puppy or puppies immediately if this occurs.
  • Actively avoiding feeding the pups by moving away when they try to feed.
  • If the dam herself refuses food or appears ill or underweight, she is more likely to reject her litter and/or be unable to care for them properly.

What should you do if a dam rejects her litter?

If the dam shows aggression towards the whole litter or one pup in particular, you must remove them immediately for their own safety. A dam is more likely to reject one pup than her whole litter, and often, this pup will be the runt, or ailing-so watch out for this in particular.

If the dam or any of the pups are unwell, or if the dam develops mastitis, prompt treatment and intervention may correct the problem, so you should speak to your vet immediately.

If the pups are not being fed or cared for, they may need to be hand reared or partially hand-reared, so again, talk to your vet about what is going on and your options.

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