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Mother Dog Rejecting Her Puppies — Signs, Causes and Solutions

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dams may reject their puppies for various reasons, including a lack of maternal instinct or infection/illness.
  • Signs of puppy rejection include absence of licking, spending time away from the litter, and distress from both parties.
  • Breeder should monitor the health of each puppy and intervene during rejection to nurse and care for the puppies.
  • Bonding can be facilitated by relocating the litter to a calm environment, introducing puppies to dam's teats, and using Adaptil collar.
  • Seek immediate medical advice from the vet if the dam is unwell and infections require antibiotic treatment.
Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Gold medalist veterinary student from UVAS Lahore writes captivating articles and is passionate about animal care.
Published on
Saturday 19 May 2018
Last updated on
Thursday 18 May 2023
mother dog rejecting her puppies
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As much as you may want to avoid thinking about your dog rejecting her pup(s), it does happen — a dam’s maternal instincts don’t always kick in postpartum. If you want to have the best chance of protecting her pup(s), you should know which clues to look out for in advance. Without your intervention during rejection, your dam’s puppies may die — chances are, you will have to play the role of mother dog for a while and nurse the puppies yourself.

Yes, a mother dog can reject her litter and turn on her puppies. This may happen because she feels unwell herself, or because a puppy seems too weak to be worthy of her care, or simply because of a lack of maternal instinct. Such behavior may appear from the moment she has given birth, or a few days or weeks later. This is why a dog breeder should devote enough time, every single day, to monitor the health of each puppy. Use puppy forms to log each whelp’s weight over time and make sure it grows steadily.

Be aware that when a dog mother ignores her entire litter, things get obvious very rapidly: they all cry because of starvation so to get her attention. You will generally be alerted. However, if she ignores a single pup, you may miss these alarming signs.

What Are the Signs of a Dog Mother Rejecting her Puppies?

One of the most common signs to look out for is the absence of licking. Usually right after a litter is born, a dam will immediately begin licking each pup. This is usually the first indication that she cares about the welfare of each one. In dog language, licking is often a way for the mother to mark her puppies with her scent and claim them as her own. It can also be a way to stimulate them to pee or poop or to merely clean them. Put simply, licking is a mother dog’s way of loving her puppies — if she doesn’t lick, she may be rejecting them!


Another obvious sign that a mother wants nothing to do with one or more of her pups is when she spends time away from them. It is usually difficult to separate a mother and her litter — maternal instincts are usually so strong that she will not leave her puppies other than to relieve herself. If you see your dam, sitting or lying away from her litter with visible indifference, this should alert you to possible rejection.

As well as a mother dog feigning interest in her pup(s), there may also be signs of clear distress from both parties. Newborn puppies are not like newborn babies who cry often, to indicate their needs. Newborn pups spend most of their time sleeping and eating every couple of hours — therefore, they spend most of their time cuddled up against the mother dog’s tummy for easy access to her milk. Puppies who are being rejected will not enjoy this luxury and will often cry loudly due to extreme hunger — their growth will also be a lot slower than normal and they will become malnourished. In some circumstances, the mother dog may also repeatedly pick up her pups and place them down away from her, making her need for distance clear — this is extremely distressing for all involved and will require intervention from the breeder.

In extreme circumstances, a mother may also kill and possibly eat (or attempt to eat) one or more of her litter following rejection. Canine cannibalism or infanticide is usually instinctual and can occur when a mother dog does not recognize her pup(s) as her own. This odd behavior is far more likely to take place after a cesarean section. However, there are multiple reasons why a dam may choose to eat her pup(s) and not all of them are down to simple rejection, so it is important to monitor her closely and keep check of anything that may be cause for concern.

Once you know the signs that a mother dog may be rejecting her pup(s), you will also need to get to the bottom of why is a dog rejecting her puppies, so you can be best placed to help.

Why Would a Mother Dog Reject Her Puppies?

A lack of maternal instinct is one of the main reasons a rejection will occur — normally this is due to low levels of oxytocin which usually rise during birth. Therefore, dogs who deliver their litter via cesarean section often struggle to exhibit maternal behaviors, instead of behaving aggressively or showing indifference to their offsprings.

A dam may also have all the right maternal instincts to provide her litter, but may still reject a single pup. Sometimes if a pup is unwell with a viral or bacterial infection, has a congenital birth defect or any other disorder that makes it weaker than the rest, a dam may separate it from the rest of her litter. It sounds harsh, but this is her way of ensuring that the rest of the litter does not become infected and/or ensuring that all her resources can go towards the puppies with the strongest chance of survival.

Additionally, a dam may also reject her pup(s) if she herself is sick and unable to care for them as a result. She may still recognize them as her own and have the right maternal instincts, but not be strong enough to nurse them.

dog rejecting puppies
A mother can reject her puppies even if she is very healthy herself.

One of the most common postpartum canine infections is an infection of the mammary glands, known as mastitis. The infection will cause her mammary glands to become inflamed and swollen — this can be exceptionally painful and will usually stop her from being able to breastfeed her puppies. As a dam owner and responsible dog breeder, you must not allow any pup(s) to attempt to drink milk from infected teats, as it will be toxic.

Some mother dogs also suffer from metritis, which is an infection of the uterus following birth and will often be marked by vaginal discharge, lethargy and a fever. Mastitis, Metritis, and Agalactica (MMA) in dogs can be fatal if left untreated and require immediate attention from a veterinary professional. It will also be your responsibility to care for the mother dog’s pup(s) until she is able to do so herself.

Furthermore, just like human mothers, dog mothers also experience similar emotions following birth. For example, first-time mothers may feel overwhelmed by the entire experience or feel they have too many puppies to care of. If these feelings of helplessness continue to build up, a dam may simply give up trying to look after her whelps and reject them. In addition, she may also feel excessively tired and may not have the energy to care of her litter even if she wants to; her body will still be recovering from the laboring process. Your dogs cannot talk to you, so you will have to pay close attention to the behavior of both the mother dog and the litter — if you have any cause for concern at all, seek help from a vet immediately.

Treating Puppy Rejection in a Mother Dog

As a dam owner, you should think of yourself as your dam’s second in command or her litter’s second mother. Whatever the mother dog is unable to do for her whelps by way of providing care for them, you must be prepared to step in and do yourself. If your dam has no maternal instincts whatsoever and you see her separating herself from one or many puppies, or even trying to hurt them, you may need to take over as the litter’s full-time mother. For example, by keeping them warm with blankets and towels and hand feeding them yourself by bottle feeding or syringe feeding until further notice. However, there are still various lengths you can go to, to try and stimulate the dog mother’s maternal instincts to kick in.


You may want to try relocating the whelping box so that it is in a calm, quiet (and clean) environment where the dam can care for her litter in peace. If she is more relaxed she may be more likely to release the right hormones she needs to build bonds with her litter. If your dog is particularly attached to you, you might also find that your presence helps her to feel more at ease. If this is the case, try relocating the whelping box to somewhere that you spend most of your time, so the mother dog can be near you as often as possible. This way, you will also be alerted much more quickly to any distress from either the mother dog or the pup(s).

If your dog still appears anxious, you may want to try an Adaptil collar (DAP) which releases synthetic dog pheromones, designed to instill a calming effect in your dog.

If you think the mother dog is rejecting her pups because she is excessively tired or overwhelmed, you should be prepared to aid her in her care wherever possible. Bonding relies on hormones which are usually stimulated during labor, but also during nursing. If the pup(s) do not automatically latch on to the teat you can try introducing them yourself — get your dam to lie on her side and place her pup(s) near her tummy, with their mouths positioned as close to her teats as possible. You may require an extra set of hands to do this so that one person can focus on the litter and the other can soothe the mother dog. Ensure that any help you enlist is from a person that your dam knows and trusts, as not to cause her any added stress or anxiety. If the dam exhibits any aggression during this process, immediately remove the puppies from the situation.

If you suspect that your dam is unwell and this is the cause of the rejection, seek immediate medical advice from a vet. Infections such as mastitis and metritis require antibiotic treatment and can be life-threatening if left to progress — pup(s) should also never take milk from their infected mother. The best thing you can do for a new dog mother and her litter is to stay with them as much as possible to support them and look out for any concerning changes — your observations could save more than one life!

17 comments on “Mother Dog Rejecting Her Puppies — Signs, Causes and Solutions”

  1. Lorri GOODE

    Hello my name is Lorri I am a first time puppy mom and my dog has just separated her six puppies in the doghouse she has put three puppies at the back of the dog house and has three puppies at the front of the doghouse and my question is is this normal or could it be because she just hasn’t brought them all to the back or is she going through some kind of issue they are 9 days old today, they are fat and healthy looking !

  2. Vergie Washington

    My dog had 3 puppies 2boys and1girl the girl is the smallest she always lays and sleeps all the time we put them in with the mother for feeding and you always hear her attacking one and it be crying tonight this happen and later on we remove them to there on cage the girl pup not being feed she is so weak you can feel her little bones she can’t hold her little head up she was walking and playing little yesterday now she can’t stand up

    1. Rita

      I hope you took her to the vets

    2. Walking Tall

      Canine mothers are a lot like human mothers. However, they do not have anyone blaming it on postpartum depression. There are women and dogs that just do not want to raise offspring. Especially true of old dogs and ones having had many litters. I have seen it first hand in Dogs and people. Many of the reasons given by Vets are good advice. But, unfortunately some are not going to be good mothers. You can identify likely women. Dogs usually are a surprise unless they are naturally aggressive with male like dominance traits.

    3. Lisa Smith

      You may need to bottle feed the puppies for a while until they are older. Especially the little girl. Sounds like she’s been ignored and the mom not letting her eat. That’s so sad poor thing starving to death is how it sounds.

  3. Marvella Yvette Smith

    My dogs 1st litter, she killed them all but 3 out of 9. We had to separate them & nurse them from 4wks old. This time she had 5, one I think she ate, but she did good for the first 3weeks, now she seem to avoid feeding them. I noticed but my husband thinks she has them on a schedule.

    1. Charlie

      Not sure why you bred from her a second time. Not a good decision. Very stressful situation for you all

  4. Lynne Brostuen

    Why did you breed her again? . She killed her puppies. A Female that kills her pups should not be bred again.

    1. Susan B Fluor

      How could you bred her again

  5. Tracey ODonnell

    My dog has just had 4 pups, she lays to feed them and has cleant them, but seems anxious when I leave and wants to follow me back to the house, but when I am near the kennel she is fine with the pups, should I move her and the pups close to me?

  6. Lau

    My dog started littering 3 days after giving birth.
    She has killed 2 puppies and there is 1 that she doesn’t want to feed.
    The rest 4 puppies she is feeding them well.
    Which could be the reason of why she is not feeding that 1 puppy? Will it be cause the puppy is ill or because the mother’s littering problem.

  7. Sheila Lyons

    If a dog Rejects her first litter of puppies does that mean she will reject the second litter of puppies.

  8. Viki

    My dam rejected her puppies and killed eight. I am hand raising two remaining puppies. Will she except these puppies when they are older?

    1. Nic

      I’m in the exact same situation.
      I really would love to keep the pups.
      How did you get on?
      Did you get them bonding?

  9. Laul

    Hi my bitch has had a litter of 2 pups one boy and one girl, since the birth she has been acting abit strange ie (hiding under a table, when let in the garden going to corners and digging, going behind a narrow space behind her kennel) but she has been feeding the puppies as normal and cleaning them so they can pop/wee but today she randomly attacked the boy so I’ve separated her from them and I’m now hand feeding them but whilst I’ve done that she’s been going crazy trying to get to them, has anyone had the same experience or knows what’s best to do? As I don’t want to keep her away from her pups but also don’t want to put them in harms way.

    1. Samantha de Mello

      Hi, what has happened to your pups in the end? And what decision did u make?

  10. Hunter

    So my bitch had 1 puppy she’s a pit brindle and totally neglecting her boy pup.. do I remove the puppy from the situation and feed it my self? The puppy is 4 days old.. also my bitch doesn’t seem to get comfortable and likes to dig at the ground and I’m scared it going to kill her baby boy.. any one have any ideas please respond

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