Dogs are lovable, cute, and cuddly. They are also pack animals. This probably means they are amazing parents, right?
Actually, cannibalism in canines isn’t rare, especially when it comes to dogs eating newborn puppies. Whether this happens by accident or on purpose, it’s a shocking sight.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior isn’t uncommon in dogs. In fact, it is so standard it even has a name: Infanticide.
But why do dogs eat their puppies? Are they simply bad parents, or is there something else going on?
There are many reasons behind this, and not all are as savage as you might think at first glance. As gruesome as this might seem, nature acts in unique ways.
Sure, puppies can die. This is sad, but it can happen. However, it’s even more tragic when the mother or the father are the ones who commit such an act.
As uncomfortable as it is, it’s important to understand and answer, ‘why do dogs eat their puppies?’ especially if you’re someone expecting puppies or a breeder.
We’ll give you a few reasons why dogs can eat their own puppies and what you can do to lower the risks of this happening to your litter.
Cannibalism In Dogs?!
We have all heard about cannibalism. It’s when one animal eats another animal of the same species.
While common in some animals, it is fairly rare in dogs. If it does happen, it is usually in a loud kennel, where dogs are stressed out. Of course, dogs might eat each other if starving, but this is not considered a normal occurrence.
Unfortunately, adult dogs may eat their puppies immediately after birth or just a few days later. It will rarely happen to older pups. This behavior isn’t specific to any dog breed, and any dog – mostly female – may eat its own puppies.
Keep in mind that this usually isn’t an inherited trait. Not just that, but just because a mother dog ate her own puppies once doesn’t mean she’ll do it again. While this can be a pattern, it’s not unavoidable. An amazing dog parent to one litter might still eat another one.
But why does this happen? Let’s explore.
Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?
It’s extremely disturbing and devastating when you notice that your dog has killed or even eaten her own litter of puppies. Dog owners commonly end up terrified of what their pets did! Still, it’s important to understand why such a tragedy happens.
There are a few reasons why your pooch might have done this. We’ll go over the most common ones.
Sometimes, a birth might not go exactly as planned, and a cesarean section might be necessary to deliver a healthy litter of puppies. This is similar to a human mother who needs a C-section.
However, a C-section intervenes with the mother dog’s hormones since the mother’s body isn’t responding the same way as it would have if there had been a natural birth. Some experts believe this might lead to a dog not recognizing the puppies as her own.
In other words, your female dog might not understand she became a mother.
On such occasions, the puppies can annoy her, especially since their high-pitched voices are made to be unpleasant to the ear. She won’t nurse them or take care of them as she wouldn’t really understand what they are.
But that’s not even the worst part.
The erratic movements puppies make may activate a dog’s predatory instinct. This is especially common with dogs used for hunting that are trained to attack anything smaller than themselves that moves.
This can lead to the mother killing her helpless babies, then eating them. She wouldn’t think twice about it since she wouldn’t understand what she’s done. In her head, these weren’t her puppies but prey animals.
On some occasions, the hormones might not kick in immediately after the puppies are born, even if the birth was natural. Instead, there will be a short lag between the birth and the awakening of a mother’s instincts. This leaves enough space for the mother to kill off and eat her entire litter.
While rare in general, this occurs more in inexperienced mothers whose bodies aren’t used to going through such changes.
Dogs are similar to humans in many ways. Some are less obvious than others.
For example, your pup can get just as stressed out as you are. This will usually change her behavior and make her do things she normally wouldn’t – such as killing her own litter.
If a mother dog is stressed out because she is in a loud and crowded environment and doesn’t have the peace she needs for her pups, she might feel like her litter is too much work.
A bad environment can make a female dog feel as if the puppies are nothing but trouble and that she can’t take care of them adequately. This might lead her to do unspeakable things and kill her own litter before eating it.
While the act seems terrible to us, your dog sees the logic behind this. If she can’t take care of her puppies, she’ll need to abandon them. Otherwise, she wouldn’t survive.
However, if she were to leave her children unattended, they would either starve to death, or another dog or predator would eat them. They would die either way, and the energy from eating them would go to your dog’s opponent.
In her eyes, her puppies were doomed to die, and without human interference, this is true. So it is better for her if she was the one to gain something from the unfortunate death of her puppies.
Sometimes, you might think your dog did something without understanding the whole story.
Mother dogs can see something is wrong with some of their pups (or even the entire litter) without you ever noticing. If this is the case, they’ll abandon or even kill the sick pups so they can focus on their healthy offspring.
While this may seem cruel to you, it’s a part of natural selection, and there are several good reasons why this is the case.
In animals, only the fittest will survive, and there is no space for the weak. Sick puppies might attract predators, which will endanger the entire litter. Instead of having just one dead puppy, the mother dog might lose all her offspring.
Because of this, if a mom senses one of her puppies is a runt or has some health problem such as parvo or genetic issues, she might kill and eat it. This will not only put it out of its misery, but it will also save the rest of the litter.
First Time Mom
If the mother dog was mated while she was too young, this is another reason why she might not be prepared for parenthood.
Breeding shouldn’t happen when a female dog is in her first heat. Her hormones typically aren’t developed yet, so she won’t have the instincts she needs to fulfill her role.
If the breeding does happen and she has her first litter at such a young age, the new mother should be spayed as soon as possible. She shouldn’t have any more litters, as chances are she’ll never learn how to be an adequate mother.
Keep in mind that it’s entirely natural for mothers to growl or even snap at their pups, especially those behaving badly and in need of some discipline. However, this should never happen in the first week or two, when the babies depend on their mother entirely.
In fact, the first week is the most crucial when it comes to new mothers. If she’s acting well towards her puppies, you have nothing to worry about. Mothers rarely turn against their puppies once they are more than a week old.
Another reason your dog might have killed and eaten her puppies is due to painful nursing, which is usually the result of a health condition such as mastitis.
Just like human babies, puppies’ main source of nutrition is their mother’s milk. However, mastitis can make her teats feel so painful to the touch that nursing will be almost impossible. Sometimes, the milk production will halt or even stop altogether.
In fact, mastitis can be so painful to a female dog that she might feel like having puppies is too much, and she’ll reject them entirely. Sometimes, this can lead to her killing her offspring, just like she would if her puppies were weak or sick.
In animals’ eyes, it’s better to put babies out of their misery than allow them to suffer for too long. This is especially true with dogs, who are used to not allowing a single possible source of nutrients to go to waste.
Sadly, a deceased puppy can still offer energy to the mother dog. Even if she won’t use it to nurture other babies, she sees no reason why she shouldn’t use this energy. In the end, who knows when the next eating opportunity could be, especially in nature?
In all the previous scenarios, it was the mother dog who is responsible for the death of the offspring. However, accidental killings are common in both genders – however, this is still more common with females due to the amount of time they spend with their puppies.
Not all dogs have equally strong parental instincts. Some might crush them or smother them, killing them by accident. Even male dogs might lay down on their puppies, suffocating them.
While not on purpose, this will still result in a puppy’s death. It is very rare for a dog to kill his or her entire offspring by accident.
Luckily, this one is the easiest to prevent. You could simply install railings that prevent the dogs from accidentally lying on a puppy behind them and killing it.
Now that you know the answer to the question ‘why do dogs eat their puppies?’, you should know how to recognize this behavior, what is normal, and when to panic.
The most important thing is not to assume the worst has happened unless you have seen the mother killing the puppies. Even if the puppies die, chances are they died for many other reasons, and the mother didn’t kill them.
Still, it’s important to differentiate normal behavior from some red flags.
Around the first week, puppies are fairly calm, and they’ll sleep most of the time or cuddle around their mother. During this time, the mother should focus entirely on her puppies, and she’ll be very interested in them.
This might also lead to some behaviors we humans might consider…weird.
For example, a mother might stimulate her little ones to poop by licking their bottoms. While coprophagia isn’t uncommon in dogs, this isn’t it. This is a way for her to encourage their bowel movements and ensure they don’t have any intestinal parasites.
Even if she does end up eating poop, this is entirely normal, and you shouldn’t be worried. As disgusting as this might sound, all dogs might eat feces, especially if you don’t clean up right after they’re finished.
In fact, even right after puppies are born, you might see some things that might make you think your dog is acting out of the ordinary or just plain gross. This includes eating the afterbirth, placentas, and any other bodily fluid.
This doesn’t mean that a mother will eat her children.
Natural Death Causes
If you find dead puppies next to their mother, don’t immediately assume she killed them. There are several reasons puppies can die, including natural and medical problems.
There is even a thing called fading puppy syndrome, similar to sudden infant death syndrome in humans. This is an unexplained medical condition that can kill puppies that are up to nine weeks old.
Intestinal parasites and viruses can also kill your pup much quicker than you’d think, not to mention a plethora of genetic complications!
If you suspect your puppy is sick, you should take it to the vet immediately. It would be wise to take the mother and the remaining puppies with you, as well, just to make sure everyone else is healthy.
Photo from: @cutedogsbizz
While there are many things that are entirely natural for animal parents, there are some red flags you should take notice of. Also, you should do all you can to ensure the best environment for the mother and her puppies, at least in the first few weeks.
For example, an ideal temperature would be around 85°F during the first week after birth. No matter what happens, it shouldn’t get colder than 70°F. Cold temperatures might kill the puppies or make them sickly enough for the mother to abandon them.
Not all puppies know how to nurse on their own. Some don’t know how and others are too weak to fight for their mother’s teat. You have to make sure all puppies have eaten every day. Also, newborns should sleep next to each other to stay warm.
If you have a puppy that’s acting unusually, is isolated, crying, or staying too quiet, this is a warning sign. Monitor that puppy and, if necessary, hand feed it if you want it to survive. Chances are the mother will reject it, especially if it is smaller than the rest.
Take Precautionary Measures
While you can never be entirely sure the puppies are safe, there are a few things you can do to increase their chances of survival.
Newborn puppies are very vulnerable, so you should keep a close eye on them, especially in their first few weeks, which is considered their critical time. You want to make sure the puppies are acting and feeding normally. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a bad sign.
However, you should also monitor the mother. While you know the answer to ‘why do dogs eat their puppies?’, you can never be too sure your dog will be a good parent. If you notice any unusual behavior from her, consider hand-feeding the puppies, or at least the runt of the litter.
Remember that it’s never a good idea to breed dogs until they are at least in their second heat. Otherwise, the female dog might not know how to be a good mother, which increases the chances of her killing her litter.
It might be a good idea to sleep close to the litter for the first few days, just so you don’t miss any red flags. This way, you can run to the rescue if you hear any muffled sounds or weird noises.
You should take your new family to the vet on the day following the birth. A DVM will rule out any diseases and ensure there aren’t any retained placentas that might cause health problems for the mother, including sepsis.