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My Dog Just Had Puppies: Can I Touch Them?

Photo of Newborn Puppy

You may have heard the myth that you should not touch puppies when they’re born because their mother might reject them.

That is all that is – a myth.

If your dog knows and loves you, why wouldn’t she want you to enjoy her babies?

In fact, if Mama lets you, it’s actually good to show them affection because it will help them accept humans that much faster.

However, what you do not want to do is interfere with her ability to care for her pups properly.

Mama Knows Best!

Don’t worry – Mama Pup will let you know when the time is right to say hi to her new brood.

If the pups were just born, she may hide them from you for a while. Give her the time and privacy she needs, and she’ll introduce them when she’s ready.

And even the sweetest of mama pups may show aggression at first when you try to meet her pups. Don’t take this to heart – she’s just trying to protect her babies.

Eventually, sense should win out over her primal nature, and she should come around and realize that it’s you, and you would never hurt her pups.

While you can certainly show the pups some love, you must allow Mama to feed and clean them when they need it – and to give them love of her own.

How to Touch Newborn Puppies

While there is no harm in touching newborn puppies from the get-go, you still need to take care in how you approach the situation.

After all, if Mama’s feeling overly sensitive, you do not want her to get the wrong idea.

Touching vs. Holding

First, keep in mind that there is a difference between “touching” newborn pups and “holding” them.

While you can “touch” them to welcome them into your home, you should not “hold” them until the time is right.

For the first two or three days, you can leave them with their mama, and they should all do just fine acclimating to one another and bonding.

(If they’re not bonding, then you need to intervene immediately. More on that later.)

From there, the ASPCA recommends you handle the puppies as minimally as possible for the first three weeks of their lives.

In fact, pups won’t even open their eyes until they are seven or eight days old.

Keep an eye on their eyes to make sure no infections develop and, if they do, take the pup(s) to the vet immediately!

How to Properly “Touch” a Newborn Puppy

When you reach out to touch a newborn puppy, you want to be gentle but also deliberate in your movements.

You also must make sure you have clean hands, as pups cannot get their first shots until they are at least five weeks old.

Photo of Boxer Puppies Nursing

You can wear gloves if you want to be overly careful, and make sure your hands are room temperature, so you don’t give the pups a chill.

When attempting to pet the pups, remember that they have tiny, fragile bones, so you must treat them ever so delicately.

Support the puppy’s underside with one hand while gently running one or two fingers down their backs and along their sides to pet them.

Keep the pup close to your chest, and don’t let his legs dangle; you must secure him to help him feel safe.

That’s all you should do for the first three weeks, and minimally at that.

Once they reach their fourth week of life, you can handle them more often, but only for short sessions, and only about twice a day.

You should also limit the amount of people who can handle the pups to minimize any stress they may feel around strangers.

When the Pups Require Your Help

There are a few situations that may arise when you have newborn pups wherein they may need human involvement.

Here are a few of those situations and tips on how to handle them.

Cleaning the Whelping Box

Mama Pup will continue to have discharge four to eight weeks after birth.

So, rather than let her pups roll around in the filth (or her, for that matter), you will need to clean the whelping box.

But how do you do this while minimizing your contact with her pups?

Basically, you need to clean the box as fast and efficiently as possible.

You don’t want to keep the pups away from their mother for an extended period of time. So, your best bet is to get in and out of the whelping box as fast as possible.

Assisting with the Milk Supply

Whether you have an aloof mama pup, or she simply can’t make enough milk to feed her starving children, you may need to help them receive adequate nutrition.

Photo of Puppies Drinking Milk

For normal mama pups, this is more common when litters are exceptionally large, and she simply cannot make enough milk to feed everybody!

If this happens, talk to your vet about what formula supplements you can use to help her out.

(This is also the time where you can take advantage, guilt-free, of that oh-so-adorable chance to feed the pups with a bottle!)

What Happens If Mama Pup Won’t Touch Her Pups?

In some cases, a mama pup will not touch her babies. What is this about?

Before you start feeling guilty that she is rejecting them because you touched them, rest assured that this had nothing to do with you.

In fact, there are several reasons why a mama pup will refrain from being with her own babies.

They’re Sick

If the mama pup is rejecting one of her own, it may be because the pup is sick – and she may even know that before you do.

It could be anything. Anemia, a birth defect, an infection – dogs are masters at sniffing out (pun intended) disease, even in humans. So, it stands to reason they’d pick up a scent in their own pups.

Why do they reject them, though? Well, the truth of it is that it is entirely primal.

If a mother dog senses one of her pups is not going to make it, she will focus all her attention on the ones who will.

As she sees it, there’s no sense focusing on a hopeless case when she can help her other pups thrive. It may seem harsh, but that’s nature for you.

However, in this case, Mother may not know best, and you may still be able to save the pup if you intervene quickly and involve your vet.

She Just Isn’t Feeling It

You know how people say about some parents, “just because you can be a parent doesn’t mean you should be?” The same goes for dogs – and they embrace it.

Just because a mama pup gets pregnant does not mean she has a motherly instinct and wants to be a mom.

Some mother dogs do not produce enough or any oxytocin, that chemical that many mothers – both animal and human – experience a surge of while bonding with their newborns.

If a mother pup lacks oxytocin, or does not make enough of it, then she may be unable to bond with her pups, which can cause her to feel aloof.

If this is your situation, you should separate her from her pups ASAP because she could turn aggressive toward them.

You can keep them warm with a heating pad or towel, feed them vet-approved formula, and, of course, give them love whenever possible.

When the Unthinkable Happens

This next section may be hard for you to read, but it’s important to know about because it does happen.

In some cases, mama pups will actually attack and even kill her puppies.

Some people blame themselves, thinking that they touched the puppies and caused Mama Pup to lash out at them and kill them.

This is 100 percent not true.

Remember that whole “dogs know when their puppies are sick” thing? Some mama pups take it to the extreme and kill the pup because she senses he is the weakest link.

Some mama pups can also suffer from mastitis – just like humans do – which makes nursing painful, so she kills her pups to stop the nursing.

And speaking of nursing, with larger litters mamas may feel they need to do something drastic to prevent their pups from fighting for her limited resources.

And also, just like with people, sometimes a pup’s death is entirely accidental, like when Mama rolls over on a puppy in her sleep.

By no means, in any of these cases, does human intervention have anything to do with such a sad event. It’s just something that happens in nature, and when nature happens in your house, well…

And They’re Off!

Pups can finally leave Mama at eight weeks old.

This is the youngest age a pup can reach before you are able to put him up for adoption.

By this point, he should be able to eat, drink, and function on his own without Mama’s help.