There’s almost nothing better in the world than puppies. Brand new, just-born, that puppy smell, the sweet coos, snuggles, and unconditional love. If you’re the fur mom of a new pup mama, you might be wondering if there’s anything you need to do to help. The good news is, there’s nothing you really need to do except keep an eye on mama. Mother dogs usually have strong maternal instincts and take care of their babies on their own. Part of that care for new puppies includes licking them immediately after birth and frequently afterward. But why does mama dog lick her puppies so much?
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The Root of the Behavior
Licking her newborn puppies is an important and critical step in the health of growing puppies. Mama dog isn’t just licking her babies because she loves them. Although that is one reason, it isn’t the only one. Newborn puppies are born blind, deaf, and helpless. It’s the mother’s instinct to keep them warm, fed, and protected. Mother dogs lick their puppies immediately after birth to clean them and encourage them to breathe. The mother will clean the puppies of any placental remnants and eat whatever she cleans from them. This recycling of birth matter is a survival instinct that hides any tell-tale odors from potential predators.
Part of the mother’s care for her babies involves helping them urinate and defecate, since newborn puppies aren’t able to eliminate waste on their own for a few weeks. Mother dogs lick their puppies’ genitals to stimulate the reflex to urinate and defecate. Don’t be alarmed if you see your dog consuming her puppies’ waste—it’s actually an important survival instinct, which both conceals her puppies’ scents from any would-be predators, and also keeps the nesting area clean and free of diseases. The area your dog gave birth in will be her almost constant home until her puppies are several weeks old. She will likely only leave the area to eat and go potty. The rest of the time, she’s looking out for her babies. Sometimes, a mother dog won’t take to motherhood well. In rare cases, a mother dog may neglect her newborn puppies. That’s why it’s important to observe the mother closely to make sure that she is caring for them and nursing them sufficiently. You can test the puppies’ hydration levels by pinching the skin at the back of the neck. If the skin bounces back quickly, they are well-hydrated. If it forms a “tent” shape, or is slow to bounce back, they may be dehydrated. If so, intervention may be necessary for the puppies’ well-being.
Encouraging the Behavior
Mother dogs lick their puppies for many reasons. It’s a natural instinct for them, and most mamas take to it without difficulty. For the most part, mama should be left alone with her puppies. She will likely want to be left alone, and she may act differently than she used to. After all, you’re not her main priority anymore. She’s got a lot more to deal with. She may even be more territorial and protective of her babies, so limit her exposure to new people and don’t intervene unless you notice something amiss with her behavior around the pups—especially if she’s neglecting them. If your dog threatens you when you approach, leave her and her puppies be for a few days, and consult a vet if it continues. Most mama dogs take to motherhood with ease. The puppies won’t do anything but sleep and nurse for the first few weeks, and they will be completely dependent upon their mother for survival. Your only job as your dog’s caregiver is to make sure she can do her job. Keep her in a warm, comfortable, draft-free, and calm spot. You can use a whelping box or let her choose an area she feels safe and comfortable. Old towels, newspaper, or ratty blankets for the nesting area are a good idea as well.
Other Solutions and Considerations
You should have a vet check on mama and her litter within the first few days. If possible, house calls are best. Keep a lookout for other complications after birth. Greenish black discharge from her private parts is okay; bleeding, swelling, foul odors, or continued grunting and pain are not. Also keep an eye out for red, swollen, hard breasts, which may be a sign of mastitis, which can be dangerous for mom and her pups. Rarely, a mother dog may reject a pup, or even try to harm it, especially if she has a large litter. Instinctually, she may feel that she cannot support the extra mouth. If you notice that a puppy has been neglected, you’ll need to step in and do all the things mama should do, including feeding, warming, and stimulating their genitals with a warm washcloth or clean paintbrush. You should also consult your veterinarian.
Having puppies can be a wonderful experience, especially when you’re only the fur mom. For the most part, mama dogs don’t need any help or intervention. Natural instincts and the motherhood hormones give her all the guidance she needs to take care of her newborns. Just give her the space she needs to care for her babies in a safe, warm environment.