Newborn pups need their mother, not only to nurse from, but also to teach them important social behaviors. Without her care until they are fully weaned, the little ones may develop nutritional deficiencies, become ill or even experience behavioral issues later in life. Prevent these issues by keeping both mother and pups together until they reach about 12 weeks of age.
A mother dog provides vital care for her puppies. Within the first 24 hours after birth, she produces special milk for her babies called colostrum, which contains antibodies against disease, according to PetEducation.com. Without these antibodies, your puppy is more prone to disease than one who did receive them. For his first two to three weeks, your puppy can't see, hear or eliminate without his mother's help and she also helps to keep him warm. If separated from her care too early, your puppy can become hypothermic, hypoglycemic and dehydrated, warns the VCA Animal Hospitals website. If she doesn't stimulate the little one to go potty, he can become severely constipated or develop a ruptured bladder.
A mother dog teaches her little ones important social behaviors. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a puppy learns behavioral lessons from his mother. Those lessons include bite inhibition, signs of dominance in dogs and why it's important to submit to more dominant dogs. She also disciplines any rough play or biting with siblings and gently grooms the pup to teach him that touching is a desirable social interaction, while biting hard is something undesirable, according to Petside.com. Without such lessons, a dog grows up unable to interact with other dogs and even may bite dogs and people as an adult, making him an unpredictable and potentially dangerous pooch.
While a pup begins weaning from his mother's milk between 4 and 6 weeks of age, he's not ready to be separated from her care just yet. A study published in the March 1993 edition of the "Journal of the South African Veterinary Association" demonstrated that puppies separated from their mothers too early experienced negative health effects. These little ones experienced less weight gain, more health issues and had a higher mortality rate than pups separated at 12 weeks of age. The study also found that with regular human contact daily, puppies separated from their mothers at 12 weeks old bonded just as well with people as those that were separated at 6 weeks old.
In some cases, it's unavoidable to separate a young pup from his mother if she abandons any of her young or becomes too ill to care for them. In these situations, you'll need to care for the orphans yourself or find a surrogate mother dog who's recently given birth. Contact local shelters or rescue organizations if you can't care for the pups, who may need feedings every two hours. If mom is healthy, keep the pups with her until they reach at least 8 weeks of age. In many states it's illegal to separate a mother dog from her puppies if they are younger than 8 weeks old, according to the Animal Legal & Historical Center.
- Journal of the South African Veterinary Association: The Effect of Early Separation From the Mother on Pups in Bonding to Humans and Pup Health
- 2ndchance.info: Ain't Misbehavin' -- Training Your New Puppy
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Weaning
- Petside.com: Your Puppy: 1 to 7 Weeks Old
- 2ndchance.info: Bottle Feeding Orphaned Puppies
- Brightwood Animal Hospital: Canine Raising Orphan Puppies
- Hartz: Orphan Puppy Socialization
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Puppy -- Orphaned
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images