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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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