On the cuteness scale, few things compare to a tiny puppy who is brand new to the world. Birth is a miraculous thing, magical to witness. A mother dog instinctively prepares for her young, and she begins to care for her puppies once they arrive. Tragically, stillbirth is a part of life, and just as instinctively, a mother dog seems to know what to do.
The Stillborn Pup
The wriggling litter has arrived, and the new mother takes action, but one puppy isn't moving. Oftentimes, a new mother will consume the stillborn puppy seemingly in an act of cannibalism -- while this may be hard to understand, the mother dog is doing what's best for her surviving pups. If she doesn't eat the puppy, she will likely remove it from the birthing nest and move it away, or try to bury it in the house. The mother dog is driven to this behavior by the same instinct, to protect her living young.
Doing What is Best
If the mother fails to tend to her deceased pup, remove it from the whelping area. Not doing so can cause harm or even death to the entire litter, especially if the puppy is infected with canine herpesvirus. A sexually transmitted disease, canine herpesvirus can be spread multiple ways. It can transmit to the unborn puppy through the placenta and during birth through vaginal secretions. It can also turn airborne and be inhaled by the surviving puppies. Once puppies show signs they've contracted the virus, most die within 24 to 48 hours.
In order to determine the stillborn's cause of death, a veterinarian can perform a necropsy. Similar to the autopsy, this process can rule out canine herpesvirus, and the information obtained can assist in post-birth care of the surviving puppies should they become ill. Whether or not the puppies and their mother show any sign of trauma or illness, all should be seen by a veterinarian.
The Choice to Spay
Perhaps the best way to avoid stillbirth, and potential disease to newborn puppies, is to have your dog spayed. This not only controls pet overpopulation, but it can add to the longevity of your dog's life. Spaying your female pet helps control undesirable behavior, and can help avoid numerous health issues. A female, when spayed prior to entering her first heat cycle, has a nearly zero possibility of developing mammary cancer and has a lower risk of developing uterine cancer. Whether or not you choose to spay, proper veterinary care is always the best bet for increasing your pet's chance of having a long and happy life with you, her best friend.
By Catherine Holden Robinson
Dog Breed Info Center: Whelping Puppies
Animal Health Foundation: How Spaying and Neutering Benefit Pets' Health and Behavior
PetEducation.com: Herpes Virus Infection in Dogs: A Cause of Puppy Death
VCA Animal Hospital: Breeding for Dog Owners - Problems at Birth
About the Author
Catherine Holden Robinson is the award-winning author of "The House of Roses," and "Becoming Mona Lisa," the creator of the blog, Tommy's Tool Town, and has contributed articles as an animal advocate. Robinson resides in upstate New York, surrounded by pet hair.