why do dogs eat their puppies

Have you ever wondered why do dogs eat their puppies?

For most people, dogs cannibalizing their pups may seem like a far-fetched and crude idea to imagine.

But dogs do eat their puppies, and it’s something that we, dog owners, should be aware of.

So in this article, we’ll tackle the grim topic of why dogs eat their puppies. We’ll also talk about how to stop a mother dog from eating her puppies.

Do you want to save your pup from their mother’s cannibalizing instincts? Read more to find out how.

dogs eat their puppies

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies: Is It Normal? 

It's not normal for dogs to eat their puppies. In fact, puppy-eating is counterintuitive because dogs are hardwired to reproduce offspring.

That's why female dogs are susceptible to always being in heat.

Instead, it's the dog's instincts that compel these dogs to eat their pups.

And for their undesirable instincts to trigger, there are many labor-related factors that can cause it.

With that, here are some factors that can activate their vile instincts.

do dogs eat their puppies

Mother Dog Experiences Stress and Pain

Many factors can contribute to stress for dogs before, during, and after their labor.

For instance, dog labor is just as painful as childbirth of people. At the labor stage's start, the mother dog’s abdomen will start hurting non-stop until the pup’s delivery.

Your dog will also intentionally contract its abdomen to push the pups out during its labor. This is by no means an easy task for your fido.

And the stress doesn’t just stop with the pup’s delivery.

After giving birth, the newborn pups will need the mother dog’s intense care and attention more than ever.

They become high-maintenance; it takes weeks for each pup to live properly.

Imagine how much stress these pups can bring to your pet dog. The stressed mother dog becomes jumpy, agitated, and increasingly hostile.

Accumulated stress pushes your dog to do erratic behaviors. And at its breaking point, your pet will lash out its stress at anyone— even their pups.

It will harm, injure or kill its pups, then eat them afterward.


Hunger and Malnutrition Forces Pup Cannibalism

Aside from stress, hunger can also accumulate during this critical situation.

It's a problem when mother dogs are hungry because they lactate milk that passes the needed nutrition to their pups.

To do that, mother dogs will need a twenty-five percent increase in their diet per lactating puppy.

So if there are six puppies in the litter, the mother dog will be needing a 150% increase in their diet!

Aside from that, their body also demands calorie intake as well. Nutrients do matter in replenishing the lost energy during labor.

So how do their nutrition deficiency and hunger equate to pup eating?

Well, eventually, your dog will eat to cope with its needs.

If the mother dog has no food near its litter, it will start looking for food elsewhere.

And what better sources of nutrients are there near its area than the pups themselves?

Hunger will eventually kick their canine instinct and may eat their puppies without fail.

mother eats puppies

Your Mother Dog has Mastitis

Yes, mastitis is another reason why dogs eat their puppies. But to understand why that’s the case, we first need to know what mastitis is.

Simply put, mastitis in dogs is an incredibly painful health condition. The two most common causes of breast inflammation are trauma to the teats and bacterial infection.

But more often than not, mastitis after birthing may happen too. After all, nibbling on their mother’s teats is a pup's instinct to get their much-needed nutrition.

To the lactating mother, however, the constant nibbling is enough of a pressure and trauma to the teats.

Each nibble can be a discomforting sensation that may become a localized inflammation and painful area.

Eventually, the unbearable pain can snap the dog and lash out at its pups, harming, killing, or eating them in the process.

dogs eat puppies

Eating Puppies is Mercy Killing

Another reason why dogs eat their puppies is mercy killing.

Mercy killing happens when there’s a weak pup that most likely won’t survive in the litter.

These pups could be sick, deformed, injured, or naturally weak, so as long as they won’t live for long.

As a survival instinct, the maternal dog will prioritize the overall health of all pups rather than the weak ones.

The mother dog will consider whether it’s worth feeding a pup that’s about to die.

It may also consider the milk, care, and attention the sick pup may take away from its littermates.

Another consideration for mercy killing comes as a way of ending the sick pup’s misery.

Accidents that Kill Puppies

Not all dog whelping will proceed without any complications and accidents. And sometimes, these mishaps can result in dire consequences such as cannibalism.

Accidents that result in dogs eating their puppy can happen under two circumstances:

The mother dog accidentally kills the pup and proceeds to eat it, or the mother accidentally eats it.

Let’s discuss them both:

Eating Dead Puppies from Accidents

Accidents during and after dog labor can instantly kill the dog.

Crushing, stomping, suffocation, and smothering are some of the accidents that can instantly take away the pup’s life.

Seeing the dead pup as a waste, the mother dog may eat the dog to recycle the nutrients back into the surviving litter.

Alternatively, some accidents leave the pup alive but with no chance of survival.

Biting the pup, and tearing its torsos or limbs are some accidents that reduce the puppy into a dying state.

When that happens, the dog may discern the injured pup as a waste of resources. They will proceed to eat it shortly after.

Dogs Accidentally Ate Their Puppy

There’s also the issue where the mother dog accidentally eats its pup.

Accidents like that can happen when the dog thinks the pup is stillborn.

Assuming that the pup is already dead, the mother dog won't hesitate to eat its body.

Dogs can also accidentally eat their puppies along with the placenta that contains the pups.

This happens if the mother dog is unaware that the pup is still inside the placenta.

She Doesn't Recognize Her Own

Most of the time, dogs will always recognize their pups, especially after labor. However, there would be instances where they’ll fail to familiarize their offspring.

This can happen when dogs don’t give birth to their pups naturally.

Surgical birth, like Cesarean sections, doesn’t induce releasing of motherly hormones like oxytocin.

These hormones are responsible for distinguishing their offspring from others.

Without the oxytocin, the dog’s predatory instincts come into play, thinking that the pup is prey.

In some cases, it’s the territorial instinct that takes effect, thinking that the pup is a legitimate threat.

stop a mother dog from eating puppies

How to Stop a Mother Dog from Eating Her Puppies

When it comes to reasons as to why do dogs eat their puppies, most of them boil down to instinct.

Whether the mother is stressed or her pup is in dire shape after birth, her instincts kick in, which are the leading cause of cannibalism.

So what does it mean for you as its owner? Are your pups doomed to be their mother’s meal if they are sick?

The answer is no.

Dogs eat their puppies as a last resort or violent reaction.

If you can limit these factors that help awaken their unfavorable instincts, you’ll also be stopping the mother from eating its puppies in turn.

So how do you stop a mother dog from eating their puppies?

Provide a Stress-free Nursing Area

The last thing your dog wants in its whelping is a hostile environment.

Since stress can greatly induce pup-eating instincts, reducing the stressors can limit your dog’s agitated behaviors too.

That's why a safe nesting spot is one of many ways how to stop a mother dog from eating her puppies.

Make your pet dog’s birthing spot comfortable and private. Here are some tips to help you achieve that.

  • Find a room that’s clean, spacious and clutter-free
  • Create or buy a whelping box to serve as the nesting spot for your mother dog
  • If your dog is crate trained, they can also use their crate as their nesting spot
  • Make sure that the room is well-ventilated.
  • Install heating pads to regulate the mother and its pup’s body temperature
  • Remove any sources of noise in the room
  • Limit the amount of crowd in the room to the people who will be assisting with the birth
  • Provide your pet dog with enough food and water


Constant Monitoring and Observation throughout Labor

Normally, you don’t want to interfere when your dog is undergoing labor.

Your dog can perceive your presence as an invading aggressor to its nesting grounds. Interfering with the whelping can build up stress in your already exhausted dog.

That being said, you still want to be there for your dog when it needs you.

Not all dog pregnancy and labor will proceed smoothly, and misfortunes may happen during the process.

Instead of interfering with your pet, you should watch your pet dog at a safe distance.

Monitoring detects any signs of aggression and hostility from the mother dog to its offspring.

Additionally, you should monitor the mother dog and its pup’s condition throughout the whole birthing process.

Monitoring the mother dog's condition can help spot signs of mastitis or stress fatigue.

Sick or injured pups are prone to unmotherly instincts that can cost their lives.

You can temporarily take away the pups for treatment and reintroduce them back to the litter afterward.

Pay attention to your whelping dog and only step in when necessary.

Veterinarian Examination

The role of vets can be extremely important in your dog’s pregnancy, from start to finish. Here’s why.

Vets can help you detect any illnesses and anomalies throughout the dog's pregnancy, such as mastitis or abnormal labor.

They will prescribe the right nutrition and environment for the mother dog and its litter to ensure their recovery and survival.

And in case there are weak pups in the litter, a vet can set up treatments to save their lives and prevent pup-eating.

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies: Key Takeaways

As gruesome as the topic is to most dog owners, we need to talk about why do dogs eat their puppies.

This instinctive behavior can happen to almost all dogs, no matter how rare it is.

It can even happen to your dogs too!

With just instincts and no moral compass to guide them, they shouldn’t be punished or blamed for this instinct-based action.

But it also doesn’t mean we should leave the pups to their mother’s unpredictable instincts.

Yes, it's true that dogs eat their puppies out of instinct. But if we can save the pups from this rare behavior, we should.

Fortunately, pup-eating is easily preventable if the mother is healthy, mature, and stress-free.

Just make sure to keep your pregnant dog healthy and create a safe environment for her that’s quiet, clean, and accommodating.