Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?
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The first thing we need to state in this AnimalWised article on why do dogs eat their puppies? is that it is not common. While it can and does happen for the reasons explained below, it is in the minority of births. Mother dogs have a protective instinct over their newborn puppies. While it may sound counter-intuitive, most reasons why dogs eat their young are to do with survival. As much as we may love thinking about our dog's personality, we cannot impose human morality on them. They simply do not function under the same social structures and mores. For this reason, it is important not to punish a mother dog for eating any of their young. This doesn't mean you can't intervene, but knowing if this is advised means you have to know the reasons behind the behavior.
The relationship of a mother to her puppies
In general a bitch will know how to take care of her offspring innately without having to seek help from outside sources. As soon as they are born, the mother frees them from the ‘water sac’. This is a protective membrane in which the puppy leaves the uterus of their mother. It is broken by the mother ripping it with her teeth. They then lick the puppy to remove any secretions or fluid, bite off the cord which connects to their placenta and keeps them close to retain heat. They will then eat their placenta and any other afterbirth material.
They perform all of the above actions instinctively, even if they are first time mothers. The same instinct means they know how to walk around their nest area without trampling on or harming their newborn puppies. Since this instinct is so keen, why then might they eat their own puppies? Is this a behavior which goes against their natural instincts?
Why do dogs eat dead puppies?
The idyllic version of a puppy's entrance to the world as described above is not always the case when a dog gives birth. Although it is not very prevalent, it is possible that a puppy will either be stillborn or not strong enough to live long after birth. They may have been injured on their way out via the birth canal or simply be underdeveloped during gestation. While it is not completely understood, it is possible the mother doesn't realise the puppy is their offspring. If the puppy has no heartbeat, they may consider it to be another part of the afterbirth. They eat it because they think it is waste material.
If we see that a mother dog has eaten their puppy, it is likely because it has died. It is possible they are aware of this, but we can't know the exact motivation for the behavior. Further study needs to be carried out, but it is also possible we will never know past hypothesis thanks to the limits in canine/human communication.
Another possible reason is that the puppy has signs of weakness or illness. While we may be inclined to do everything we can to help a weak or premature child, we are afforded the benefit of modern medicine. Dogs still have an instinct close to their wild cousins. Much of their behavior is due to survival. A sick puppy might make the rest of the litter sick and weaken the chances of the group's survival. The mother may eat the puppy they perceive as sick to save the rest of the group.
One of the ways the mother may be able to tell if a puppy is sick is by registering their temperature. The mother may not eat them, but they might expel them from the nest. This can seem so cruel to us, but the behavior is instinctual. It is also possible the reason why a puppy is not well is because the mother bites them when trying to chew the cord or eat the afterbirth. This might be a simple accident or because the mother has a difficult time reaching the puppy. This is believed to occur more often with first time mothers.
It is also possible the mother suffers a miscarriage before the puppy is taken to term. If this is the case, the mother may eat the fetus when it is eliminated. To know more about gestation of puppies, you can look at our week-by-week detailing of a dog's pregnancy.
Why does a dog abandon her puppies?
We have already seen that a mother dog may eat her young due to instinctual behavior. We might think of this as reprehensible behavior and the same might go for when they abandon their litter. At the beginning of their lives, the mother should only leave her litter for moments to feed or urinate. As the days pass, the mother will get up for longer periods of time. This gradual increase of separation time is designed to ensure the puppies learn how to fare for themselves. The puppies may cry in their mother's absence, especially if they are hungry or need something else.
If the mother does not return for a significant amount of time and ignores her puppies' cries, only then can we consider this maternal abandonment. At this stage, we will need to intervene if the puppies are going to make it.
At around 10 days of age, the puppies will begin the relatively slow process of opening their eyes. At around 15 days, they will start using their legs to move around and after 3 weeks of age, they will begin the weaning process to eat solids. As these advancements occur, they will begin to spend more time with their siblings and less with their mother. It is important to know what is normal advancement of a puppy's life and what is abandonment.
Why does my dog bite her puppies?
Removing the sacs in which the puppies are born can lead to accidental biting. This may cause some damage, but not necessarily. It will depend how hard they bite down. However, we can observe that the mother starts to bite or even bark at her puppies. It can seem needlessly aggressive, but we need to ensure we are properly reading the situation.
This behavior usually presents at the time the puppies are starting to walk and eat on their own. The mother might bark at or bite the puppy if they try to suckle from their breast. This is because the mother is trying to teach the puppies to fend for themselves.
How to prevent a dog from eating her puppies?
Since dogs eating their young is an instinctive behavior, it isn't really something we can intervene in. Puppies need to be with their mother and we should not take them away preemptively as we worsen their chances of survival. If a dog starts to eat their puppy, then it will often be too late to do anything about it.
What we can do is try to prepare as positive an environment as possible for the birth. We can try to influence the factors which will result in healthy puppies and a happy state of mind of the mother. In turn we can hopefully reduce the chances of complications during and after birth. This means providing an adequate diet during pregnancy and taking them for veterinary followups when needed. In no case should we feed them supplements without express permission from the veterinarian. This can lead to miscarriages. It is also advisable to ensure there is no added stress for the dog and that they have a comfortable environment.
If we see that all of the puppies are alive, but the mother has rejected one or any of them, we should take the puppy to the vet immediately to see if there is anything wrong. Once they have confirmed their health status, the you can think about how to feed an abandoned puppy.
Why do male dogs eat puppies?
Male dogs generally do not eat their young or kill them, at least not consciously. It is true there are examples of animals in other species, such as lions or gorillas, who kill younger members of a group. This is believed to be done for one of two reasons; so they don't have to allot them valuable resources or to stop weaning and let the female go back into heat more quickly. In the case of female dogs, their heat cycle will return approximately 6 months after birth regardless. Male dogs don't have much reason to kill offspring.
However, you should still not have a male dog hanging round a female after they have given birth. Their presence alone can stress out the mother and puppies. This stress can lead to the mother to make bad decisions, including eating their young. Eventually it is a good idea for the puppies to socialize with other dogs, even if this is the father. Whether or not it is a good idea for the father to spend time with the puppies depends on the temperament of the individual dog.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?, we recommend you visit our Pregnancy problems category.