Dogs, like humans, give birth every day, but unlike human mothers they rarely get to keep their babies. If they are born in a breeding facility, the pups are sold and in a shelter they are adopted out individually. Even if they are born into a household, unless they happen to be Pongo and Perdita and have very accommodating human guardians, most dogs have their puppies donated to relatives and friends.
It’s the way things usually go, but a viral photo has put that practice into question. Could dogs have a maternal instinct we’ve been violating this whole time?
Lilica, the proud momma
The photo was of Lilica, a Brazilian dog who got her very own maternity photo shoot. The images, taken by professional photographer Anna Paula Grillo, went the way celebrity maternity shoots go: Dressed in very little (in Lilica’s case, just a studded collar with a pink flower), the soon-to-be mother posed showing off her belly looking beautiful and glowing with joy.
Just a day after the images made dog lovers around the globe click those “like” and “share” buttons thousands of times, Lilica gave birth. Grillo then did another photo shoot with Lilica showcasing her puppies. As she stands above her five puppies — four male and one female — the new mom looks so proud. As they nap below her, she seems to portray a protective role and while they eat, she looks like she couldn’t be happier.
The pictures give the impression the dog would be crushed if her babies were taken away but is that an accurate assessment?
The mom and puppies bond
“It’s very hard to say what an animal is feeling because we have to be careful not to anthropomorphize,” explains Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ, about the tendency of humans to think animals act and feel like they do. “Every animal goes through a mourning process after something or someone they’ve taken to is taken away from them. It can manifest with them being lethargic and even turn into a physical illness.”
Mahaney adds that to make sure the dog is coping well with the loss of her puppies, it’s important to give them extra attention so that mourning period is not so painful. Waiting for the puppies to be weaned is also important for both the mom and babies.
“It’s against nature to take them away from mom,” he says. “It’s also unhealthy because you want them to get all the nutrition and antibodies only the mother can give them.”
From a chemical perspective, after the puppies are weaned — about four to six weeks after birth — the mother will not be producing as many hormones that give her pleasure in nursing, which will make the separation easier.
Not all dogs are Lilica
While Lilica had a seemingly happy pregnancy and birth, Mahaney warns that’s not the case with every dog.
In the two to three months in which dogs are pregnant, they can feel heavy and in pain. A Dachshund, for example, who is prone to having back problems, could have increased problems and even a ruptured disk from jumping off a couch while carrying the extra load.
The birthing process is also not easy, he adds, specially for breeds that have bigger heads and smaller hips like French Bulldogs and Pugs. (Ouch!)
Spay and Neuter Are Better Than a Maternity Shoot
Inspired by Lilica’s glam moment and want your dog to have the same treatment? Bad idea.
Depending on the breed, one pregnancy could lead to as many as 14 puppies to care for in a world where there are already millions in need of a home, and if there are any complications, the bills can add up fast too.
“A lot of people don’t recognize there could be life threatening situations to a dog pregnancy and there’s a lot of time, effort and expense that goes into it,” warns Mahaney.
Photo Credit: Anna Paula Grillo