How to Encourage a Mother Dog To Feed Her Puppies

Most mother dogs instinctively know how to care for their puppies once they're born. Their first interaction will be to lick and clean each puppy as it appears. Occasionally, though, a mother dog won't do what she needs to and will need help to activate her maternal instinct. Disinterest in her litter also can be caused by medical issues.

chocolate, black and yellow labrador retriever puppies & their mother
Some first-time mother dogs need encouragement to nurse.
credit: Silense/iStock/Getty Images

Missing Maternal Instinct

Some first-time puppy mothers aren't sure what to do with the tiny, squirming bundles they're presented with after whelping. This may be the result of inexperience or something more serious, such as a calcium deficiency. Sometimes, a dog who has had a cesarean section will need help to begin nursing. She may be sore from surgery or groggy from anesthesia. In most of these cases, a bit of encouragement is all that's needed to spark her maternal instinct.

Curing Inexperience

An inexperienced mother dog must first learn to care for her pups. This will help stimulate the production of colostrum, the milk a mother dog produces the first few days after whelping. As puppies are born, most mother dogs instinctively lick and clean them. She will continue to do this for the first weeks of their life. If your mother dog doesn't show interest in licking her puppies after they're born, rub a small amount of baby food from a jar of chicken or turkey, yogurt or peanut butter on the puppy's back. Just use enough so the mother dog gets the scent and taste. Once she begins to lick the puppy, place it at a nipple to nurse. You may need to do this several times with each puppy.

Medical Reasons

Some mother dogs who actively reject their puppies are suffering from a calcium deficiency. Mother dogs need extra feedings of high-quality food after giving birth and, frequently, additional calcium. Insufficient calcium can cause eclampsia, or milk fever in the mother dog. She will appear restless or anxious and may pace. Her temperature will rise. This condition requires immediate veterinary attention. Your vet may administer intravenous calcium, which reverses the condition. Mother dogs with eclampsia usually can return to nursing after several hours but, in severe cases, nursing must be stopped for longer. Consult with your vet for instructions.

Treat Mastitis Early

If the area around a mother dog's nipples appears red, swollen and seems sore to the touch, she may have mastitis, a bacterial infection of the mammary glands. This condition can appear any time until the puppies are weaned. A mother dog with mastitis will refuse to nurse and may be listless and disinterested in her puppies. Immediate veterinary attention is required to avoid an abscess. Once treated, most mother dogs can return to nursing with the nipples that are not affected.