Raising Pets: Why Some Animals Abandon Their Young

Animals abandon their young for many reasons. With domestic animals, specifically pets, people often panic and tell their kids not to touch the babies or the mother will abandon them. This is not entirely true, as there are many reasons why a mother might reject her young. A list of those reasons, and what to do.

Animals abandon their young for many reasons.  In domestic animals, such as livestock and pets, there are plenty of reasons a mother animal may abandon, or reject her young.


The Lamb this first time mother did look after….

The twin lamb she didn’t look after. 

Too Much Human Intervention

Although it is not true that a mother animal will kill her offspring or reject them due to human handling, they may reject their offspring if there is too much human handling. This is particularly true of rodents. In the larger domestic animals people must be quite involved in order for a mother to reject her youngsters. Certainly if you need to handle their young, to move them to safer areas, you must do so, and if you touch one baby, you should try to touch them all (in rodents), however you should not panic and think human scent is the reason why (for example) a female dog is rejecting one, or more, of her pups.

Move newborn animals quickly and then try to leave them, and their mother, alone to rest and bond.  In fact with kittens and puppies, they should be left alone until their eyes open, and even then only handled for short periods of time.

Poor Nutrition

If the mother is not well fed during her pregnancy, and while nursing she may instinctively care for only some of her young, or none at all. Pregnant cats and dogs should be fed kitten, or puppy food respectively, throughout their pregnancy and time nursing. Other pregnant animals should be supplemented with more nutritious food while pregnant or nursing.

First Time Moms

A young, or first time, mother may abandon her young out of stress or confusion. It is not uncommon for them to be confused. Some mothers, as the mom of the lamb in the photos, will look after some of their offspring, but not all. She was a first time mom, and looked after one lamb but didn’t seem to be looking after, or feeding the other, so we soon had to bottle feed him.

Does Not Want to be a Mother

It might be hard for some owners to accept, but some female animals do not want to be mothers.  If an animal has two litters and has rejected them both, she should not be bred again.  Chalk her up as one that simply does not want to be a mom.

Something Wrong

Some mothers instinctively know something is wrong with their young, and will ignore those who are runts or deformed. In these cases it is wise for the owner to have a vet examine any young who have been left without an obvious reason.

Health

If the mother had a difficult delivery, or is in poor health herself, she may abandon her young. If she also goes off her food, or shows any signs of problems (including if she has not shed the placenta) a veterinarian should be called in to check her. If she tore something she could be fighting infection and would run a fever. Mother animals who have mastitis (inflamed mammary glands) will be in physical discomfort and will not want to nurse their young.

 

Your Job

As mentioned you should contact a veterinarian if a mother animal is not caring for her young to have both her and her offspring checked. Most domestic pets, and livestock, can be bottle fed, but this is hard work, it takes time, and costs a lot of money in terms of special milk replacement formulas. Please note it is Not acceptable to feed any baby animal cows milk as from the store. Even calves have special formulas.

Colostrum is mothers first milk, as it contains the antibodies it is imperative newborns get this. Vets often have some or it can be purchased powdered. After that they need special milk replacement formulas (sold at livestock feed stores and veterinarian offices). They will need more feedings, and smaller feedings, when young. Kittens and pups need their bottoms wiped to stimulate them to go to the bath room after every feeding.

Puppies and Kittens that are not being looked after by their mothers should be removed and kept in a small room, or kennel.  Care must be taken to keep them warm. 

Sheep and goats can be brought indoors or left with their flock, provided they are not bullied by the larger animals. If you have several “orphaned” or abandoned youngsters they will do best if kept together. Often, as in the case of this lamb, the mom would not feed him, but otherwise kept an eye on him. As such he was fine with the other sheep.

These last three pictures are the same lamb as above, at three weeks of age.  He is a Katahdin cross sheep, having hair instead of wool.

Related Links

Care for Abandoned or Orphaned Kittens

Care for Abandoned or Orphaned Puppies

Care for Bottle Baby Lambs

Care for Bottle Baby Goat Kids

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This article has been republished here.

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  1. Erik Van Tongerloo

    On April 8, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Great info in this article and I like the pictures too.

  2. maeraquel

    On April 8, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Is it safe to say same thing happens to homo sapiens?

  3. Jo Oliver

    On April 8, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Very interesting article.

  4. Frances Lawrence

    On April 8, 2010 at 10:57 am

    The detail in this article was very helpful. I have only had experience with hamster breeding, our hamster was already pregnant when we bought her and still very young herself, the babies were a big surprise. She raised two out of three, we kept them all and they became very special members of the family.

  5. Jenna Christiansen

    On April 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Great detail provided,,,, good to learn something new…. ty

  6. sloanie

    On April 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Excellent article, great pictures too.
    My daughter tried too raise a sick lamb when she was a child, but it unfortunately died.

  7. martie

    On April 8, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Wonderful article Brenda. I have found that both sugar gliders and Chinchilla babies are almost impossible to raise by hand if rejected by thier mother even when they are healthy. Luckily, Chins will often becoms surrogates if they have milk accepting the babies as their own.

  8. PR Mace

    On April 9, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Excellent article with good facts. The mother of my dog Kole would not nurse her litter after the first week. We took him at four weeks and bottle fed him. My brother had the entire litter checked by his vet and all the puppies and the mother were healthy. The vet thought as you stated she was too young and confused. The only problem with taking him away from her and bottle feeding him was he didn’t learn his social skills from his mother.

  9. Belle Dob

    On April 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Rose Page

    On April 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    i love how people care for animals like i do and i can’t stand people that hurt there animals cause animals are humans to the want a home to and they want to be loved and cared for too and not be lonely!!!! :-’( Someday i wish i could work with animals like tigers,bears,horses, wolves, cats and dogs cause i always love them and always will no matter what happens to me!! :-)

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