Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies? Reasons Explained

In all creatures known to humans, the relationship between mothers and their babies can be described as one of the strongest ever.

For dogs, it is no different. 

In fact, observing how protective a bitch is when she is pregnant and eventually gives birth is one of the most beautiful experiences ever. 

However, that amusement and joy that accompanies the birth of a litter of puppies can be replaced with sadness and the grim reality of mom dogs abandoning their puppies or eating their puppies in worse and horrific cases.

Why do dogs eat their puppies? Why would a bitch go through the pain of pregnancy and eventually abandon her puppies?

This article unravels the mystery behind it and clarifies every question on this strange dog behavior.

Do Mom Dogs Get Along with Their Puppies?

These words of Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, perfectly describe just how much affection mom dogs have for their puppies. 

“What you’ll see on day one is a mother who doesn’t want to be away from her pups for more than a second.”

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, NYC’s Animal Medical Center Staff Doctor

When puppies are birth, they are reliant on their mother for everything.

This is because puppies are born without the ability to walk, see, or even hear. 

Thus a mom dog’s care is critical in the development of the puppies.

Upon birth, these puppies spend all of their time sleeping and eating.

During the first few days after birth, mom dogs’ primary focus is to provide nutrition for their babies and remove wastes.

Three to four weeks after birth, puppies begin eating solid food, and thus dependence on their mother for food is limited.

Newborn Puppies Sucking Milk from Mother

This process of independence is not just limited to food but extends gradually to total independence from mom dogs.

Mom dogs, upon recognizing this, will go on to promote the independence of their puppies but increase the number of times they leave their puppies in the whelping box.

By this time, the puppies’ abilities to see, hear, and walk would have developed. 

Certified behaviorist and Los Angeles dog trainer says Russell Hartstein alludes to mom dog taking extended leave from the whelping box to allow her puppies to be more independent and socialize.

At this point, the puppies also learn critical behaviors that are integral to their overall behaviors and survival.

This process from total dependence on their mother to gradual independence occurs naturally.

Typically in the first 8 to 16 weeks of a puppy’s life, mom dogs tend to care for their needs and help them transition to independence. 

These behaviors exhibited by mom dogs are overwhelming proof of how much mom dogs get along with their puppies. 

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?

As seen in the last section, the bond between mom dogs and their puppies is so strong that moms barely leave their puppies in the early days of their birth.

But, why then do mom dogs eat their puppies sometimes?

Below are a couple of reasons.

1. Accidental Cannibalism 

As horrific as it may seem, dogs eating their puppies can be accidental.

Most times, this occurred in first-time mom dogs. The root cause of this can be summed as inexperience.

Puppies are often born in a birthing sac, and a mother dog uses her teeth to free her puppies from the birthing sac.

This sometimes does not go well and results in eating the puppies.  

Sometimes it occurs when mom dogs bite the umbilical cords and eat the placentas, which is common in dogs.

2. Mastitis 

This is an extremely painful infection that affects the breast tissue of a mom dog after birth.

The breast tissue becomes inflamed, reddened, sensitive, and swollen.

When puppies are birth, their primary source of nourishment is their mother’s milk. 

But in cases where mom dogs are down with mastitis, this can cause a very difficult situation between the puppies and their mothers.

As the puppies feed on their mother’s milk, the pain can cause her to lash out, and this can lead to a bitch killing and eating her puppies.

3. Stress

Birthing is a tiring process that saps energy. Mom dogs have to deal with fatigue and wailing puppies.

This can lead to mom dogs making ill-fated decisions such as growling, barking, and even biting their puppies. 

Stress brings out instinctive predatory behavior in dogs, which can lead to cannibalism.

4. Unhealthy Puppies

In certain cases, puppies are born with health challenges such as respiratory issues or other health challenges.

These health issues can present significant challenges to a puppy’s development. 

Mom dogs notice these challenges in their puppies and are faced with the tough choice of either nursing the puppy back to health or ending the puppy’s misery. 

Mom dogs, in such cases, will kill and eat the affected puppy so as to minimize the health risk to other puppies in the litter. 

5. Hormonal Problems 

Though maternal instincts are inbuilt in mom dogs, certain hormones are released during birth that triggers such hormones and help them bond well with their puppies. 

In cases where there are issues with such hormones or puppies delivered by cesarean section, these hormones will not be triggered.

As a result, mom dogs may have issues identifying their puppies and thus kill and eat them.

In cases where mom dogs are delivered of her litter by surgery, she may wake up to crying puppies.

That may trigger her predatory instincts, leading to killing and eating her puppies.

Do Mom Dogs Abandon Their Puppies?

While most dogs widely embrace motherhood, it is not uncommon to see mom dogs abandon their puppies in some instances.

Most times, mom dogs abandoning their puppies may not be obvious, but it may dawn to all with enough attention.

The first and foremost sign that points to mom dogs abandoning their puppies has to do with the absence of licking.

Dog Licking Newborn Puppy

When puppies are born, mom dogs lick their puppies to mark them with her scent, clean them, and stimulate them to pee or poo.

Licking is an obvious sign of care, and when mom dogs refuse to do this, it is an obvious sign of abandonment of their puppies. 

Another sign that indicates that abandonment of puppies by mom dog has to do with obvious indifference with the welfare of her puppies by mom dogs. 

As stated earlier by Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, when mom dogs give birth, they barely leave their puppies.

So if mom dogs leave puppies after birth for a considerable duration, it most likely is a sign of abandonment.

Sometimes distress cries from puppies without any action from mom dogs is a sign of puppies’ abandonment.

Mom dogs sometimes also abandon a particular puppy from the litter.

This occurs largely as a result of health challenges faced by such puppies.

In order to protect other puppies from their health issues, mom dogs may abandon such puppies. 

Abandonment of puppies is caused by majorly the same reasons that lead to eating of puppies by mother dogs.

In most cases, mom dogs will abandon their puppies, but in worse cases, killing and eating their puppies occurs.

Related Questions

Why do dogs eat their puppies poop?

Mom dogs eat their puppies poops in order to keep the surrounding areas where they raise their puppies clean.

They also eat their puppy’s poops so as to prevent predators who may be attracted by the scent of the poops from attacking. Puppies will imitate mom dogs in eating their poops. 

Why do female dogs eat their puppies after birth?

Female dogs eat their puppies for several reasons.

In cases where a female dog is delivered of her litter via surgery, hormones that trigger maternal instincts would not kick in, and thus, predatory instincts may lead to female dogs eating their puppies.

Stress, accidental cannibalism, and mastitis, a health condition where the breast tissue of female dogs becomes reddened and inflamed, can lead to female dogs eating their puppies. 

Why do dogs eat their stillborn puppies? 

When mom dogs notice a puppy is unhealthy, such as stillborn puppies, she will separate such puppy from the litter, and if instincts get the best of her, she will eat such puppies. 

Mom dogs eat their puppies’ placenta and may accidentally eat stillborn puppies without realizing that they are part of the litter. 

Why do dogs eat their puppies’ placenta?

Mom dogs eat the bite off the umbilical cords after giving birth and then eat the placenta of their puppies.

Eating the placenta of their puppies serves to help them regain the nutrients they have lost and gain strength.

Does my dog trust me with her puppies?

This depends mainly on your relationship with your dog before she gives birth.

If your dog trusts you, she would have no issue charging you with her puppies. 

Final Thoughts

As grim as dogs eating their puppies may seem, it is a behavior that is not limited to canines and is quite common.

Knowing why mom dogs eat their puppies will help you stay vigilant and observant when your dogs give birth, and thus, prevent it.

You May Also Like:
Why Do Dogs Roll In Dead Animals? Science Explains

References: AKC, Fun Paw Care

Authored By

Ben Pierce

Ben Pierce is a canine behavioral and nutritional specialist, professional dog trainer, and the CEO of Puplore. A former military working dog handler, Ben founded Puplore to provide owners with breed-specific information and to act as a go-to guide to health, nutrition, care, and to help them find the confidence they need to step up to the plate and become the best pup parents they can possibly be. A firm believer in treating all animals with kindness and compassion, and that positive discipline is paramount in achieving a harmonious canine-human relationship, Ben’s former and present careers have enabled him to become a leading light in his chosen profession and business.

Related Articles

Deprecated: Function get_page_by_title is deprecated since version 6.2.0! Use WP_Query instead. in /home/puplore/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 6031