Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dogs as Foster Mothers and Wet Nurses


Neat story on the Wildlife Disease News Digest listserv this morning. It was headlined as Dog wet nurse saves panda cubs in China. Good thinking on the part of the keeper staff at the Taiyuan Zoo in northern China's Shanxi province led to a quick resolution of the problem when red panda cubs (a much smaller relative of the iconic panda that we all know) was abandoned by their mother right after birth. This AP photo shows the little bitch with its two unusual fosterkint.

Twenty-eight years ago I organized the same thing with a bear cub that came to the zoo in Saskatoon. It still had its umbilicus attached, and its eyes had not yet opened. A black and white bitch had recently whelped at the University of Saskatchewan’s Animal Resource Centre and the director, Dr. Ernie Olfert was kind enough to let me take her to the zoo. She was soon mothering the cub as well as her own four pups. Keeper Sharon Latour kept an eye on things and the cub did well, and was soon playing with the pups. The bitch continued to care for it until it was about six weeks old, when she obviously decided that its sharp claws and even sharper teeth were too much for her. She abruptly weaned the entire “litter” overnight.

If you want the whole story you can find it in the International Zoo Year book of 1982 (Haigh, J.C. and Latour, S., 1982. A Domestic Dog as a Foster Mother for an American Black Bear Cub (Ursus americanus). International Zoo Yearbook, 22, 262‑263.

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