The birth of new puppies is an exciting, much-anticipated event. Unfortunately, pet owners may face sadness and disappointment if their dam gives birth to stillborn puppies, or if the puppies die shortly after birth.
As a veterinarian, this is a sad reality that I have seen with many pregnancies.
However, with the right knowledge, you can learn to recognize signs of problems during labor and know what to do if a puppy is stillborn, or dies after birth.
What do you do with a dead puppy? In order to help your dog overcome the death of her puppy or puppies and avoid the spread of any infectious disease:
- Allow the mother to spend some time (no more than 15 minutes) with her dead puppy or puppies
- Remove the dead puppy or puppies with gloves in case of an infectious disease
- Take the mother dog, dead puppy or puppies, and remaining puppies to your veterinarian for an examination
- Consider options for disposal of the body
- Say your final goodbyes
Below we expand on what to do with the dead puppy(ies) and how to help your dog overcome her loss. We also provide information to help you understand what to expect with pregnancy, labor, and after birth.
What To Do With A Dead Puppy
Unfortunately, it is common for one or more puppies to be stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Knowing what to do with them is essential in order to protect the dam and the remaining puppies from any spreading of harmful disease.
Below we describe the various steps to take:
Allow The Mother To Spend Some Time With Her Dead Puppies
If your dog gave birth to a dead puppy, she needs to know that her puppy had died to avoid anxiety and continued searching for the puppy.
Be aware that the process of decomposition begins immediately after death. Leaving a decaying body with the mother and the live puppies is very dangerous.
Do not allow the other puppies to contact the dead body.
Allow the mother to spend no more than 15 minutes with the body before removing it.
Removing a dead puppy quickly from the mother, especially before she realizes it is dead, can cause distress to the dam. She may become agitated and try to bite you, or she may panic and try to find her puppy.
To avoid distress and panic allow her to see and smell the dead puppy before quietly removing it.
If it has been more than 15 minutes since the puppy has died, and the dam has not yet registered that the puppy is dead; it is advisable to remove the dead puppy quietly while she is busy caring for the live puppies.
Occasionally, the mother should not have contact with her dead baby. If the dog gave birth to a dead puppy whose body is ruptured or severely damaged, it may have harmful bacteria on the surface. It should be removed immediately to avoid contact with the mother or the other puppies.
Some mother dogs, especially inexperienced ones, may have an instinctual drive to eat her dead puppy.
Although this behavior is uncommon, if it is going to happen the dam may show signs of agitation, and start overzealous grooming and licking of the dead puppy. Finally, she will start biting it. If you see any of these signs, remove the dead puppy straight away as the consumption of it, is unsafe for the mother.
Some mother dogs may try to bury their dead puppy in the garden. Other dams may attempt to bury the puppy in her bedding. Or she may try to remove her dead puppy by pushing it to the outside of her bedding area.
If the mother dog is trying to clear the bedding area by burying the dead puppy or pushing it outside the area, It is advisable to let her do it. Once she is no longer paying attention to it, quietly removed the dead puppy with disposable gloves and bag it ready for examination.
Removal Of The Dead Puppy
The death of a puppy can be caused for many reasons including Infectious diseases.
Therefore avoid touching the dead puppy with bare hands or you may run the risk of infecting yourself, the dam, the other puppies or your extended family.
When removing the dead puppy use disposable gloves, place the dead puppy and the placenta inside of a sealable freezer bag, seal it and place this bag inside another sealable freezer bag.
Turn your gloves inside out as you remove them and discard them in the trash.
All objects used for the dead puppy such as: gloves, bedding, etc should be disposed in the trash. Then remove the bag from the house, to avoid the mother dog from smelling the sense of the dead puppy and attempting to get in the garbage.
Take the body and the placenta to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
If your veterinarian is closed, place the bag inside of your refrigerator, away from food or drinks.
Do not freeze the puppy. While refrigeration helps to preserve the body, freezing the body may make some diagnostics impossible.
Call your veterinarian’s office as soon as they are open to bring in the dead puppy, dam and all live puppies.
After removing the puppy from the refrigerator, be sure to sanitize the area.
Contact Your Veterinarian
The death of a puppy can be caused by many different reasons, including infectious diseases.
This is why taking the body and the placenta, as well as the live puppies and the dam to your veterinarian, is paramount to ensure that whatever killed the puppy or puppies has not spread and no one is at risk.
Your veterinarian may recommend testing the dead puppy to verify what caused the death. He or she will also perform a physical examination of the mother and any live puppies and provide you with recommendations for additional testing or treatment.
The physical examination of the dam will include:
- Check for additional puppies: Your veterinarian will need to confirm that there are no additional puppies in the birth canal or uterus. Sometimes this can be done by palpation of the abdomen and vagina. Other times, especially in larger or overweight dogs, a radiograph may be needed for confirmation.
- Check for signs of mastitis: mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary tissue and is often associated with an infection. The mammary tissue may appear red, hot, swollen, painful, and have areas that feel hard. This condition is very painful for the mother and requires veterinary attention. While any dog can develop mastitis, a mother that has lost all or most of her puppies is at higher risk because she is producing milk that is not being consumed. Your veterinarian can discuss options to decrease milk production and treatment of mastitis.
Cremation Vs Burial
While at the veterinarian’s office you will need to discuss options to dispose of the body.
You may choose to have the body of the puppy buried or cremated.
- Burial provides a permanent place for you to visit and honor the puppy. Burial may be at a pet cemetery, at your home, or even some human cemeteries have a section for pets. If your desired option is to bury the puppy at home:
- ensure the grave is 4-5 feet (1-1.5 m) deep. This is to ensure that the mother dog is unable to dig up the body, as this is unsafe for her, her live puppies and your family due to the risk of disease transmission, and
- Check with your city before you do so. Certain cities have rules and regulations on home pet burial.
- Cremation allows the puppy to return to his or her natural state more quickly. You can spread the ashes at the park or your garden, or you can keep them at home. If spreading the ashes in your garden or in a park be careful, as a large quantity of ashes concentrated in one area can change the soil pH level thus potentially harming some plants.
Our article, Are Pet Ashes Good For Plants, will help you spread the ashes without harming any of the plants that the other live puppies and mother will later enjoy.
When discussing cremation, you may hear the terms communal cremation and private cremation.
- Communal cremation means that the puppy will be cremated at the same time as other pets, in the same cremation chamber. This means that you will not be able to have your pet’s ashes back. The cremation service will collect the ashes of all pets in the cremation chamber and dispose of them. Most cremation services will scatter the ashes after each communal cremation. This service costs approximately $40.00 USD.
- A private cremation means that the puppy will be cremated individually in a cremation chamber, and the ashes will be returned to you. The ashes may be returned in a standard wooden box urn or a plastic bag. Or you can choose a personalized urn from the cremation parlor. However, this may be more expensive and the selection may be more limited to those you can find on the internet. Private cremation costs between $100 to over $1,000 USD depending on how big the puppy is and the type of urn or memorial you pick out.
Be aware that when testing for diseases, your veterinarian may send the entire body to a diagnostic laboratory; in this circumstance, you will not have the body or cremains returned.
Choosing A Pet Urn
When choosing the urn form the internet consider your budget, the size of the urn, whether you want to bury the ashes on a biodegradable urn or a nonbiodegradable urn, or whether you want to keep the ashes at home:
- Budget: Urns can vary in price from as little as $30USD to as much as $300USD+. Personally, I found this one on Amazon for less than $20 that I absolutely love.
- What size urn do you need?: The general rule to determining the appropriate size for an urn is, for every pound of the puppy’s total weight you will need 1 cubic inch (2.5cms) of space plus 10 cubic inches (25.4cms) for good measure. For example: If the puppy weighs 3 ounces (85g), you will need an urn that is 5 cubic inches (82cms) or larger.
- The urn: The selections are endless. To keep the ashes at home you can choose Pet Figurine Urns, Wooden Pet Urns, Pet Photo Urns, Natural Stone Pet Urns, Metal Pet Urns, etc… to bury the ashes in the garden you can choose either a biodegradable or a nonbiodegradable pet urn.
If considering a biodegradable urn, we have reviewed The Best Biodegradable pet Urns in the market to date. This article has been written with you and your furry friend in mind. To your dog, it will give him/her an urn where they can rest in peace; and to you, it will provide the practicalities you need when choosing an urn: cost, size, and materials used.
If you decided to cremate the puppy, the ashes can be kept in an indoors urn, buried in a biodegradable urn or scattered.
If your children are grieving, consider discussing what happened with a teacher or school counselor to be sure they receive the emotional support they need while away from home.
What Causes Puppies to be Born Dead?
Owners are concerned and saddened by the loss of new puppies and want to find out what causes puppies to be born dead.
Many owners need to find answers for peace of mind, but for all cases, this is necessary to be sure that the mother and any living puppies are safe and healthy and not at risk.
Knowing what causes puppies to be born dead is not an easy answer, as there are numerous causes:
Dystocia is a general term for a difficult birth. This includes mal-positioning of the fetus, including a breech presentation.
Another possibility is that the female has a pelvis that is too narrow. This is a frequent concern in dogs that are too young for breeding.
Large puppies may be another cause for dystocia. A larger male that has bred a smaller female may cause puppies that are too large for the mother to give birth naturally. Some breeds, including English and French bulldogs, typically require a cesarean section.
A dog that has been in labor with a puppy stuck in the birth canal for a long period of time also causes puppies to be born dead. This condition is very painful for the mother. A dead puppy in the birth canal will start to decay. The uterus will continue to contract, which may cause the uterus to rupture. This may be fatal to the mother or to the other puppies.
If your dog is expecting a litter, have a consultation with your veterinarian to discuss a normal birthing process and the signs that indicate that a puppy may be trapped in the birth canal.
Some of the signs to indicate a problem with labor is:
- Labor that has not started within 24 hours of the rectal temperature dropping below 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- A puppy that is visible in the birth canal and not passing
- The mother is in extreme pain or weak
- More than four hours have passed between puppies
- Contractions that are lasting for more than 30 minutes without a puppy
The mother should be healthy and receiving adequate nutrition to be sure that she has the vitamin and energy reserves needed for labor and nursing.
The dam should be fed high-quality food throughout her pregnancy until the puppies are weaned. She will roughly double her caloric requirements during pregnancy and triple them while nursing.
Take the dam to your veterinarian during the pregnancy, for a physical exam and follow any recommendations for care.
Your veterinarian will likely recommend deworming during her pregnancy to prevent the transmission of parasites to the puppies.
Watch out for these signs that indicate that the dam is malnourished:
- a dull, poor quality hair coat,
- decreased in immunity,
- excess shedding, and
- feeling lethargic.
Numerous medications can cause puppies to be born dead.
If your dog is in medication and you think she may be pregnant, be sure to talk with your veterinarian.
Some types of medications that may cause death in unborn puppies include:
- anti-cancer drugs,
- gastrointestinal, and
- cardiovascular medications.
Congenital defects are abnormal conditions that a puppy is born with; many of these conditions can cause death.
This can occur if the mother was exposed to a toxin while she was pregnant or may be caused by genetic diseases.
Infectious diseases are caused by several bacterial, fungal, viral, and protozoal organisms.
Two common infections that cause puppies to be born dead are Brucella Canis and Canine Herpesvirus.
Brucella Canis is a bacteria that causes infertility, embryonic death, fetal death.
Canine Herpesvirus is a viral infection that usually infects the puppies at the time of birth through contact with the birth canal. The disease causes puppies to be weak, fail to thrive, and die. The virus may infect puppies in utero and can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, infertility, poorly developed puppies, and mummified puppies.
What Causes Newborn Puppies To Die
Fading Puppy and Kitten Syndrome
Fading Puppy and Kitten Syndrome is when a puppy is born apparently normal but within two to nine weeks of birth, their health declines potentially causing death.
It is caused by many things, including:
- Inadequate nutrition of the mother
- Septicemia describes infectious organisms that are in the bloodstream. In newborn puppies, organisms usually reach the bloodstream from infections of the umbilicus, wounds, or tail dock sites.
- Parasitism of the mother or the puppies. Parasites can be transmitted to puppies through the placenta or in the milk.
- Inadequate nutrition of the puppy
- Diseases of the mother
- Hypothermia. Newborn puppies do not maintain body temperature well and can become cold quickly, which can be fatal.
- Diarrhea is a common cause of death of newborn puppies because it causes dehydration. This may occur from overfeeding of formula, or from formula that is improperly mixed. Viruses, bacteria, and parasites may also cause diarrhea.
- Upper respiratory infections
- Stress due to overcrowding, contact with other animals, and unsanitary conditions.
Symptoms of Fading puppy syndrome are:
- Nursing less than expected, or not at all
- Less vocal
- Less active
- Colder body temperature
Trauma is a common cause of death in newborn puppies. It is often caused by an inexperienced mother:
- She may accidentally step on her puppies, causing injury or death.
- She may lay on a puppy, causing death from crushing or suffocation.
- She may accidentally damage the puppy while trying to eat the placenta and chew off the umbilical cord.
- Occasionally, a protective mother who may be snapping to protect her puppies may accidentally bite them.
It is a good idea to discuss with your veterinarian how to assist the mother dog in avoiding trauma to the puppies.
How To Know If Puppies Are Dying
Puppies that are dying seem weak, less active, and less vocal than their littermates. They may nurse less frequently, or not at all.
Mother dogs may recognize that these puppies are sick or dying; they may push them to the edge of their bedding and stop caring for them. If this happens, take the puppy to your veterinarian immediately. You may be able to care for this puppy, or your veterinarian may recommend that the puppy be euthanized to prevent suffering.
Occasionally, some mother dogs will not be good at caring for their babies. Some may not pay attention to their puppies; some may even be aggressive and kill their babies, although this is uncommon.
Some dogs do not produce enough milk for their puppies. In these cases, your veterinarian can teach you to feed and take care of them. Be sure to seek veterinary advice to avoid harming the puppies.
What To Do When My Dog Keeps Looking For Her Dead Puppy
Removing the puppies too quickly or immediately after birth can be very stressful for the mother.
She may accidentally harm the other puppies if she steps or lies from them while attempting to find her missing puppy.
If your dog keeps looking for her dead puppy, attempt to refocus her attention on any live puppies.
If there are no live puppies, sometimes small stuffed animals that are similar in size to the puppies will help. Be sure to get a toy that is dog appropriate and does not have any removable parts, such as a plastic nose or eyes.
Allow the mother dog to look for her puppies to see that they are not present. If she is confined and believes that her puppies are out of reach, she will be distressed. Allow her to look around the house to understand that the puppy or puppies are gone.
How To Help Mother Dog Mourning For Lost Puppies
After puppies die the mother dog may become depressed. This is especially true if the entire litter has passed away.
Dogs who have had their puppies removed surgically do not usually become depressed or understand that they had puppies who are now gone. However, a mother dog who has delivered them often will mourn for her lost puppies.
Usually, if one or more puppies are alive, she will focus her attention on the live puppies and will not appear to grieve.
If the mother dog after puppies die is mourning, she may not want to eat or drink, she may not move around much. She will appear quiet and sad.
As these are also signs of many illnesses, we recommend you take her to your veterinarian to confirm that she does not have a medical problem that may be mimicking the symptoms of depression.
Ask your veterinarian if the mother dog can go on walks or car rides. Think of the things that she typically enjoys and try and do them with her.
If the weather allows, take her outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight. But be aware that a dog who has delivered puppies will have a vaginal discharge that may last a few weeks. This smell may attract other dogs. This can be overwhelming for your dog. It also may lead to fighting or a male attempting to breed your female, which can be medically damaging. You should avoid contact with other dogs for a few months after she gives birth.
Spend a lot of time with her, giving her cuddles, brushing her, petting her, playing with her, or just sitting with her. Your companionship is the most important thing you can provide to a depressed dog.
If your schedule prevents spending extra time at home, consider hiring a pet sitter to visit her during the times you are gone.
What To Do If Your Dog Is Pregnant
Have your dog examined by your veterinarian if you think she may be pregnant.
Your veterinarian can discuss recommended care for the mother, signs of labor and what to do and expect after puppies are born.
Care For The Mother
feeding the mother vitamins and high-quality puppy food during her pregnancy, and until the puppies are weaned, will allow her to have the necessary energy for the tasks ahead.
Seeing the veterinarian twice a week during pregnancy is recommended, especially for dams with health issues. The average length of gestation for dogs is 63 days.
Take your dog for an X-Ray and if the budget allows an ultrasound. An ultrasound and blood test can confirm pregnancy as early as 21 days. A Radiograph (X-Rays) allows seeing how many puppies to expect. This helps owners be sure that the mother has given birth to all her puppies, and that her labor is complete.
Certain breeds of dogs, including English bulldogs and French bulldogs, standardly require a caesarian section primarily because the puppies’ heads are too big to make it through the birth canal. Your veterinarian may also recommend a caesarian section if the puppies appear too large on radiographs, or if the mother is too small, young, or has other health concerns.
Planned caesarian should be scheduled with your veterinarian ahead of time before labor begins.
If your dog needs a planned or emergency caesarian section, this is an excellent time to have her spayed.
Removal of the uterus at the time of this procedure does not create a more lengthy or difficult recovery. It saves her from having additional surgery to be spayed later. Dogs that are spayed at the time of a caesarian section will be able to produce milk normally.
Exercise during pregnancy is essential to keep her spirits up and to keep her healthy. However, do not allow strenuous or stressful activities after 4 weeks into the pregnancy; limit exercise to gentle walks
When The Mother Is In Labor
Allow the mother dog to have a clean, private, quiet place to give birth. This may be a large birthing box with plenty of soft bedding and room enough for her to lay down comfortably.
Mother dogs should have a place without noise, activity, or other animals to reduce stress and make her comfortable in labor.
Your veterinarian can explain what to expect during labor, including how long to wait between puppies before becoming concerned.
As a general rule, puppies are born every 30 to 60 minutes form each other. However, if over 30 minutes of persistent strong abdominal contractions is occurring, and no puppy is coming out, there may be a problem and a veterinarian should be contacted.
Signs of labor are:
- A rectal temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit indicates labor should begin within 24 hours
- Lying down with visible abdominal contractions
What To Do If Your Dog Is Having A Difficult Time In Labor
If your dog is having a difficult time in labor, you must contact your veterinarian immediately.
Signs of difficult labor include:
- continued labor without passing puppies or a puppy that is stuck in the birth canal.
- a mother in uncontrollable pain or distress or one that seems lethargic or no longer pushing.
- Excessive bleeding or discharge
Ways your veterinarian may be able to help are:
- reposition and assist the delivery of a mal-positioned puppy.
- Provide medications to help the uterus contract to continue natural labor.
- A caesarian section to remove the puppies.
What To Do After A Mother Dog Gives Birth
Remove and replace all the bedding materials used during birth with clean, soft, warm bedding materials.
Do not give her a full bath, but do clean her with a soft towel and warm water. Be gentle as she will be exhausted.
If everything went well take the new mother and her puppies to your veterinarian, approximately 24 hours after birth, to be sure that they are healthy and do not need additional medical treatment.
Your veterinarian will also examine the mother to be sure that she does not have any puppies remaining inside her uterus or birth canal.
Your veterinarian can confirm that the mother is producing milk and does not have evidence of mastitis.
If she is not producing milk, your veterinarian may give her medications to help milk production. If this does not work you may need to bottle feed the puppies with formula.
Your veterinarian may also recommend supplements, especially in small breed dogs that are prone to having low calcium levels after giving birth.
How To Take Care Of The Mother and Puppies
After the puppies are born, keep them in an open-topped confined area that is tall enough that the babies cannot crawl out, but short enough that the mother dog can easily jump in and out. She will need to leave to eat, drink, and eliminate.
Mother dogs need breaks from their puppies and need to move around and exercise. Be sure that she is returning to her puppies, cleaning them, and nursing them well.
She should be able to lay down, stretch out, and sleep comfortably. The space should not be too small that she may accidentally crush her puppies. If it is too big, the puppies may roll or crawl away from her, risking them getting lost or too cold.
The mother and puppies should be kept indoors in an area free from drafts. The mother and her puppies need a quiet, warm area to rest. Mothers can be very protective of their babies. Even well-meaning people and pets can cause considerable stress.
Keep other pets away and closely supervise small children around the mother and her puppies. Puppies are easily injured and should not be handled by small children. Loud children are stressful for the mother. In the process of naturally protecting her babies, even a friendly dog may bite.
How To Prevent Problems With Labor
Spaying your dog is the best way to be sure that she does not experience this devastating loss again. A dog that has had problems with labor or death of puppies has a higher risk of doing so again.
Spaying her avoids contributing to the pet overpopulation crisis. According to the ASPCA,1.5 million pets are euthanized in shelters every year in the US. Many people want their children to experience the miracle of birth. Find a local rescue that has a pregnant dog and sign up to be a foster. This way, you and your children can experience the birth and raising of puppies without further contributing to pet overpopulation.
It is also healthier for your pet to be spayed. Pyometra is a uterine infection that occurs in dogs that have not been spayed. This condition requires emergency surgery and can be life-threatening. Breast cancer is common in non-spayed female dogs.
Spaying your dog not only avoids further death of new puppies, but it is also healthier for her and helps keep homeless dogs from being euthanized.
While the birth of a litter of puppies is an exciting event, sometimes it may not go as planned.
Stillborn puppies and puppies that die after birth are not uncommon. Know what to watch for and how to handle this situation should it arise.
Work with your veterinarian to learn how to care for the mother and newborn babies to give them the best chance at a happy, healthy life.