Will A Mother Dog Abandoned Her Puppies?

The question of whether a mother dog will abandon her puppies is an important one for any dog owner or breeder. When a mother dog gives birth to a litter of puppies, she undergoes dramatic hormonal changes that promote maternal behaviors and bonding with her offspring.

However, there are situations in which a mother dog may reject or abandon her young. Some of the reasons this can occur include stress, anxiety, illness, a lack of maternal experience, or even the innate personality and temperament of the mother dog.

This article provides an overview of the question about mother dogs abandoning their puppies. It explores the natural maternal instincts of canines, reasons abandonment may occur, signs of rejection, risks to abandoned puppies, and how to care for orphaned litters. Understanding mother dog behavior provides insights into canine maternal psychology and informs best practices for breeders and pet owners.

Definition of Abandonment

Mother dogs are said to have abandoned their puppies if they stop caring for and nurturing the litter. This includes outright rejection, where the mother avoids the puppies altogether, refuses to feed them or care for them. It can also include more subtle forms of abandonment, like frequently leaving the puppies unattended beyond normal intervals, not letting them nurse, or becoming overly aggressive if they try to interact with her.

According to veterinary experts, abandonment of a litter by the mother dog is relatively uncommon. However, it does sometimes happen, especially with first-time mothers or dogs who underwent a difficult labor and delivery. There are often underlying medical or behavioral causes leading a dam to abandon her puppies (source).

Reasons for Abandonment

There are several reasons why a mother dog may abandon or reject her puppies.1 One of the main reasons is if the mother senses something is wrong with a puppy such as a congenital anomaly or if a puppy was stillborn. The mother’s natural instinct is to focus her attention on the healthier puppies who have a better chance of survival. Stress can also cause a mother to reject her litter such as from a frightening loud noise, change in environment, or lack of privacy while whelping. Physical issues like mastitis, metritis, eclampsia or inadequate milk supply can prevent her from properly caring for puppies as well. Additionally, inexperienced or young mothers may reject puppies simply because they do not understand their role yet.

Sometimes therejection is of just one or two puppies from a litter, not the entire group.This could be because those particular puppies are weaker, smaller or have an issue making them less preferable in the mother’s eyes. Regardless of the cause, puppy rejection is not abnormal occasional behavior but owners should address it quickly to protect the abandoned pup(s).

Signs of Abandonment

There are some key behaviors and signs that may indicate a mother dog is abandoning or rejecting her puppies. These can include the mother avoiding her puppies, refusing to nurse them, showing signs of aggression towards them, or displaying signs of anxiety or restlessness in their presence [1].

Excessive crying from the litter is another clear sign of potential rejection or abandonment, as newborn puppies only tend to cry when they are hungry or in distress [2]. The mother may also try to leave or escape the whelping area frequently.

In some cases, the mother dog may begin to neglect basic care of the puppies, like nursing or grooming them. She may even go so far as to push the puppies away when they try to nurse. Any aggressive behavior towards the puppies is a serious red flag.

Milk fever, also known as eclampsia, can sometimes cause a mother dog to reject her puppies. Symptoms of this condition include restlessness, anxiety, and unsteady gait [3]. If the mother dog shows any of these behavioral changes after giving birth, it warrants an immediate vet visit to address the underlying health issue.

Risks to Abandoned Puppies

Abandoned puppies face many dangers without their mother’s care and protection. Some key risks include:

Hypothermia – Puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature until around 4 weeks old. Without their mother and litter mates to huddle with, abandoned puppies can quickly become chilled, leading to hypothermia (Cite).

Dehydration – Mother’s milk provides hydration to puppies. When abandoned, puppies do not have a source of fluids and can become dangerously dehydrated (Cite).

Malnutrition – Puppies rely on mother’s milk for complete nutrition in their first weeks of life. Without this food source, they risk malnutrition, starvation, and a compromised immune system.

Disease – Abandoned puppies lack antibodies from their mother’s milk, leaving them vulnerable to viruses, parasites, and infections.

Predators – Alone and unprotected, abandoned puppies can fall prey to predators. Dogs, coyotes, birds of prey, and other wildlife may attack vulnerable puppies.

Caring for Abandoned Puppies

Taking care of abandoned puppies requires round-the-clock care to ensure their survival. Newborn puppies are completely dependent on their mother for warmth, milk, and elimination stimulation. Without her, human intervention is critical.

The key priorities when caring for abandoned puppies are:

  • Keeping puppies warm – newborns cannot regulate their body temperature and need external heat sources like heating pads, hot water bottles, or incubators set to 85-90F. Check rectal temperature to monitor.
  • Feeding puppies every 2-3 hours – puppies need colostrum and milk for nutrition using a puppy milk replacer and bottle. Avoid overfeeding.
  • Grooming puppies – gently rub puppies’ bellies with a warm, damp cloth to stimulate elimination.
  • Providing affection – abandoned puppies need cuddling, petting, and human bonding for proper development.
  • Taking to the vet – have puppies checked for dehydration, infections, and proper weight gain.
  • Keeping the whelping area very clean – sanitize bedding and feeding supplies to prevent disease.

With intensive around the clock care, an abandoned puppy’s chances of survival can be good. But they will still require extra training and socialization. Seeking help from an animal foster agency is advisable for anyone caring for abandoned puppies.




Fostering Abandoned Puppies

When puppies have been abandoned by their mother, they require special care and attention to survive. Fostering provides an ideal solution for caring for abandoned puppies by placing them temporarily in a home environment (Fostering | Puppy Litters | Kathy Callahan – Dog Training). Foster homes allow the puppies to receive round-the-clock care while searching for their permanent homes.

Fostering litters of abandoned puppies provides many benefits over keeping them in a shelter environment. According to the Whole Dog Journal, fostering gives the puppies “the socialization and care they need to grow into friendly, adoptable dogs” (What Fostering Can Do For Rescue Puppies). The foster home setting gives the puppies a chance to interact with people, children, other pets, and experience daily activities and noises. This early socialization helps prevent behavior issues as the puppies mature.

When fostering a litter of abandoned puppies, it’s ideal to care for puppies under 4 weeks of age. Revival Animal recommends having a foster dog act as a surrogate mother to orphaned puppies if no lactating mother is available. The foster dog can provide warmth, comfort, and socialization. Foster parents will bottle-feed the puppies formula and stimulate them to go to the bathroom (Orphan Puppy Care: Fostering a Litter of Puppies to a Foster Dog Mom). Frequent weighing and veterinary care helps ensure the abandoned puppies thrive.

Reuniting Puppies and Mother

If you find a litter of puppies that appear to have been abandoned by their mother, the best option is usually to try to reunite them if possible. There are several steps you can take to safely reunite puppies with their mother:

  • Wait and observe – The mother may return sporadically to care for the puppies, so resist removing them right away. Monitor the situation for 12-24 hours.
  • Use your scent – Rub a towel on the puppies to pick up their scent, then leave it with the puppies so the mother can pick up their scent.
  • Make a nest – Prepare a warm sheltered nest with food and water to encourage the mother to return.
  • Reintroduce slowly – If you’ve taken the puppies in for care, place their nest near the original location and watch to see if the mother returns.
  • Consider fostering – If the mother still doesn’t return after 24 hours, consider fostering the puppies while continuing efforts to reunite.
  • Get professional help – Contact an animal rescue or veterinarian for guidance on safely reuniting puppies with their mother.

With some patience and care, there is a good chance a dedicated mother dog will return for her puppies or accept them back into her care. Don’t give up too quickly, as reuniting puppies with their mother is ideal for their wellbeing if done properly.

When Abandonment is Unavoidable

Sometimes there are unavoidable circumstances where a mother dog may abandon her puppies, through no fault of her own or the owner’s. These situations are rare but can occur due to health complications or instinct.

One example is if the mother dog has severe mastitis, a painful infection of the mammary glands that can make nursing excruciating. The condition may cause the mother to reject her puppies as she associates them with pain when feeding (1).

Likewise, a mother dog with metritis, an infection of the uterus, may abandon her litter due to illness. She may lack the strength and energy to care for her puppies (2).

In other cases, a mother dog may abandon one or more puppies if she senses something wrong with them, such as birth defects, weakness, or low weight. Sadly, some mother dogs may instinctively abandon the weakest puppies to increase the survival chances for the stronger siblings (3).

Lastly, inexperienced mothers, especially young dogs or first-time mothers, may not know how to properly care for puppies. Their lack of maternal instincts and inability to nurse and groom the puppies can lead to accidental abandonment.

(1) https://www.pbspettravel.co.uk/blog/what-to-do-if-your-dog-rejects-her-puppies/
(2) https://www.petplace.com/article/dogs/pet-health/orphaned-dogs-their-mental-and-social-needs
(3) https://www.quora.com/Why-does-my-dog-who-just-gave-birth-keep-on-moving-one-puppy-away-from-the-others


In summary, while it may seem unlikely, there are situations where a mother dog may abandon her puppies. Some common reasons for abandonment include the mother feeling unsafe or unable to properly care for her litter. Signs of abandonment include lack of feeding, grooming, and overall maternal care from the mother. Abandoned puppies are at high risk if left unattended but can often be rescued or reunited with their mother given the right support and intervention. While abandonment should always be avoided if possible, sometimes it is unavoidable due to extreme circumstances. The key is providing the abandoned puppies proper care and an environment where they can thrive even without their mother.

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