Maternal Behavior Problems in Female Dogs

3 min read

Mismothering in Female Dogs

Maternal behavioral problems are classified as either excessive maternal behavior in the absence of newborn pups or the lack of maternal behavior when dealing with the mother's own young. (Other types of maternal behavior problem also exist, but they are still poorly defined.)

Though no genetic component has yet been attributed to these behavioral problems,the fact that Jack Russell terriers seem to be predisposed to the behavior indicate the possibility of a genetic component.

Symptoms and Types

Inadequate Maternal Behavior 

  • Abandons her own newborn pups (most common after caesarean section)
  • Does not allow her offspring to nurse
  • Insufficient cleaning of the young
  • Inadequate retrieval of the young
  • Failure to stimulate elimination
  • Attacking and/or killing some or all of the newborn, especially if it has a different odor or appearance
  • If disturbed by people or other animals, may redirect her aggression to her young

Excessive Maternal Behavior 

  • Un-bred mother may attempt to nurse unfamiliar pups
  • Guarding of inanimate objects such as stuffed animals
  • An increase in the size of mammary glands


The lack of maternal behavior shown by mothers with newborn pups, especially after caesarean section, has been attributed to gradual decrease in oxytocin, which is important during the sensitive period of acceptance of dam’s own neonates. Conversely, when there is an absence of newborns, excessive maternal behavior is due to the increased progesterone levels resulting from estrus in un-bred bitches, followed by an immediate and sharp decline in the progesterone levels.



You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, to the veterinarian. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well as a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count -- though the results are usually normal unless a disease is present.

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