Mothers can neglect or injure their puppies for a number of reasons. The best way to prepare a dam for quality nurturing is to create an atmosphere conducive to a contented nest. The whelping quarters should be clean, dry, in a quiet, out-of-the-way location, and well heated to avoid chilling the puppies.
The mother-puppy bond begins during and shortly after birth. The mother recognizes each puppy by his distinctive scent. During the process of licking, cleaning, and nursing the puppy, she establishes a supportive relationship that remains until the puppy is weaned.
This bond may be less secure when puppies are born by C-section. Such mothers can have difficulty accepting their puppies for the first 24 hours. This is less likely to happen when some of the puppies are born before the surgery, or when the puppies are put to her nipples before the sedation wears off.
A bitch whelping her first litter should be watched closely. She may 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 malocclusion problems are particularly prone to severing the cord too close to a pup’s body or accidentally biting the puppy.
A novice mother may have difficulty coping with a litter of squirming puppies for the first few hours. With a little help, she can be shown how to nurse her puppies and keep from stepping on them. Some house pets are extremely people-oriented and show little interest in being a mother if it means loss of their human family’s attention. Spend a good deal of time in the whelping area and allow the dam to have the run of the house. Lavishly praise the dam for being a good mother.
A dam may neglect her puppies if her milk does not come down during the first 24 hours. Once the milk does comes down, the puppies begin to nurse and the bond is established.
It is important to keep visitors out of the whelping area for the first three to four weeks, especially when the dam is a novice or is high-strung. Letting children and unfamiliar people handle the pups is stressful for the dam.
An overprotective dam could injure her puppies by picking them up and carrying them to another spot. Return the entire family to the whelping box and stay with the mother, talking softly and stroking her often, until she settles in. Do not allow her to become frightened while carrying a puppy. Nest seeking can be prevented, in part, by introducing the dam to her whelping box two weeks before she is expected to deliver and encouraging her to sleep in it.
Other causes of puppy rejection are postpartum infections and complications such as milk fever, mastitis, and acute metritis. In these cases, puppies may have to be removed and reared by hand.
A fading puppy whose body temperature has dropped below normal due to sickness or constitutional weakness may be pushed out of the nest. This is nature’s way of culling.
Maternal behavior is at least in part genetically inherited. Dams who show poor maternal behavior should not be bred and their daughters should not be bred. Before breeding your bitch, look into the maternal behavior of her dam.