Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies? How to Stop?

Last Updated on July, 2024

Dogs eat their puppies ACCIDENTALLY, however, that’s not always the case, sometimes, it can be due to hunger, malnutrition, inability to identify the puppies, and more!

In this guide, we will discuss why do dogs eat their puppies in detail and how to prevent this habit among mother dogs. 

Quick Summary

The main reasons why dogs may eat their puppies: accidental ingestion, hunger or malnutrition, inability to identify or recognize their puppies, suffering from mastitis, stress, inexperienced motherhood, or mercy killing.

It is not a common or normal behavior for dogs to eat their puppies, and it is important for pet owners to take care of their pregnant dogs to prevent this from happening.

It is not an inherited trait for female dogs to eat their puppies, but certain breeds, such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, may have a higher likelihood of exhibiting this behavior. It is important to create a stress-free and clean nursing environment for the mother dog and to observe her behavior closely after giving birth.

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?

A mother dog sleeps with its puppies in a dog bed

Here are some of the most common and saddest reasons why dogs choose to eat their puppies

Accidentally Eating the Puppy

A mother dog may accidentally eat her puppy. 

However, how does that even happen? After giving birth, it cleans the pups and removes the birthing sac. During this process, it bites and eats the umbilical cord and the placenta and she may accidentally kill the puppies.

If there are stillborn pups (born dead), it may eat them too. The dog has natural instincts to identify stillborn pups. Accordingly, she either buries the stillborn puppies or eats them during the clean-up after the birthing process. 

It happens accidentally when the mother cannot feel the heartbeat of the newborn. 

Hunger or Malnutrition

Hunger and malnutrition can cause dogs to eat the puppies but it is a rare behavior. 

The mother is more hungry than usual because it lactates milk to feed her puppies. Therefore, it needs more calorie intake than usual.

Technically, a mother dog needs a 25% increase in its diet per puppy.

For example, if there are seven puppies, the mother dog needs a 175% increase in its diet. 

Initially, when the mother dog feels hungry, it will check for food.

a mother beagle feeding its puppies outdoor

Eventually, if she is unable to find any food, it may result in the dog eating the puppies. This is where its natural wild animal instinctive behavior kicks in if it doesn’t get sufficient nourishment. 

As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to identify how much food and nutrition it needs and make the accommodations. 

Doesn’t Identify the Puppy

Female dogs don’t always recognize their young puppies. 

It happens because she doesn’t give birth naturally, as it happens by Cesarean sections (C-sections). In such instances, the mother does not release the typical motherly hormones, and thus, she will not be able to recognize her puppies. 

Hormones such as Oxytocin are the key for dogs to identify their puppies from their point of view, and their natural predatory instincts kick in.

Suffering From Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection caused in the breast tissue after the birth. As a result, the dog’s teats can turn red and swollen. What happens when your dog suffers from Mastitis? It begins to feel significant pain while nursing puppies. 

How does the dog exhibit behaviors during this stage? It will lash out at the puppies, exhibit aggressive behavior, avoid feeding, reject the puppies. In cases of severe conditions, it could potentially eat her puppies.

It’s a serious issue, but you can consult your vet for solutions. As a short-term solution, as a pet owner, you can feed all the puppies using bottled milk formula. But if the Mother is comfortable with nursing, it is best to let her do it! 

Stress

a sad and stressed dog looking at the camera

Giving birth is a stressful process as not all pregnancies are easygoing, especially for first-time mothers. New mothers are new to the lifecycle. Therefore, it can result in stress issues. 

How does your dog behave during stress? It looks tired and scared. As a result, it begins to bite its puppies, growl, and bark. 

Here are some ways you can help your dog to overcome stress:

  • Supply the dog with its preferred and nutritious food. 
  • Show your love as a pet owner.
  • Show sufficient attention.
  • Ensure to keep the male dog away.
  • Never separate the mother and puppies (It can cause anger and make them aggressive).
  • Provide a calm and peaceful environment for nursing.

Ensure to overcome your mother dog’s stress issues to avoid aggressive behavior which may result in her eating her puppies. 

Inexperienced Motherhood

A common fact is that female dogs shouldn’t get pregnant during the first heat cycle. Because it is too young at this stage giving rise to inexperienced motherhood. 

If dogs get pregnant at a younger age or face motherhood for the first time, new mothers may not know how to deal with the pups.

Also, being a mother at a young age is not healthy for a dog. 

Dogs face inexperienced motherhood in puppy mills, too. The owners are concerned about multiplying the offspring and not concerned about the health of the mother. In that case, the Mother may eat its own offspring. 

All you can do is consult a vet for advice and take care of both the mother and its puppies from leading to extreme cases. If you have dogs that give birth at a very young age, you must ensure it doesn’t eat its young puppies. 

Mercy Killing

two pictures of weak puppies

What’s mercy killing? It’s when a mother kills a pup if it is deformed, ill or weak. 

Indeed, when the pup is not born strong or healthy, the mother dog may eat that specific pup. What type of diseases can unhealthy puppies have? It may have respiratory problems, health complications, and infections.

How can you identify sick puppies in the litter? The unhealthy puppy will not spend time with other puppies in the group, lacks the strength to eat, and is very inactive.

The Mother senses these issues quickly and quite early on.

Before the disease gets spread to other pups in the litter, the Mother is left with two decisions:

  • Eat the unhealthy puppy.
  • Nurse that specific pup to make it healthy.

Eventually, the dog decides from the above choices. In cases of mercy killing, the main intention of the mothers is to safeguard the remaining puppies and consider the fact that the pup will not be able to look after itself as it grows weak or unhealthy. 

How to Stop the Mother Dog From Eating Her Puppies?

Here are the top three ways to prevent the mother dog from eating her puppies. 

Veterinarian Examination

Veterinary care is vital to stop the mother dog from eating her puppies. 

Make sure to frequently visit the vet to avoid health complications, significant pain, and especially if you detect any illness. 

So, how will the vet help you in that case? The vet will prescribe nutritious food, essential medicine, and give you tips on how to make your dog comfortable and happy during the pregnancy and birthing!

a veterinarian checking a dog

What do you do if there are weak pups in the litter? Make use of veterinarian examinations. The vet can suggest the best course of action you need to take to help the weak puppies. 

Your vet’s role is crucial during and after the pregnancy. If you follow the vet’s advice, you can save both the mother and the sick puppy. 

Observe the Mother Frequently

You must observe your mother dog’s behaviors frequently to be able to detect any behavioral or other issues early. So, how do you do that?

Here is a quick guide:

  • Observe and help your mother dog during whelping.
  • Observe the health condition and changes it undergoes during and after pregnancy.
  • Take it to your vet if you observe any stressful time, fatigue or Mastitis.
  • Ensure your newborn puppies are healthy. If they are not healthy or weak, remove them from the litter completely (you can get vet advice and treatment to make them better).

Ensure a Stress-Free Nursing Area

a mother dog feeding her puppies in a safe environment

The process of giving birth can be a stressful time for the mother dog due to her strong maternal instincts. 

Therefore, as dog owners, you must create a stress-free nursing area for the new mother. 

So, how can you create a stress-free nursing area?

  • Ensure the nursing area of the mother dog is clean and free from litter.
  • You can use a whelping box or the crate as the nesting spot for your mother dog.
  • Ensure the nursing area is spacious.
  • Provide healthy food for your mother dog and take care of its health.
  • Use heating pads in the nursing room. It helps regulate the mother dog’s body temperature and its pups.

Is Female Dogs Eating Their Puppies an Inherited Trait?

No, it is not an inherited trait for female dogs to eat their puppies. 

Are there any dog breeds specialized in eating their puppies? Yes, there is one breed- Staffordshire Bull Terriers are known for eating their puppies. 

Does that mean that every Staffordshire Bull Terrier eats their puppies? Well, that’s a big “No”. It depends on the specific dog and its individual circumstances. 

Will a Mother Dog Kill Her Babies if I Touch Them?

a mother dog relaxing with her puppies in a bed

No, female dogs will not kill babies if you touch them. 

Will the dog eat the pups if it has human scent on it? Generally dogs do not hurt their puppies if they have human scent on them. So, no need to worry about that.

However, it’s important to note that when you handle your newborn puppies, they may become contagious to viruses such as Parvo (these viruses may even exist in your clothes).

Thus, if one of the pups gets infected by the virus, it can also spread among the other puppies. So, to avoid further infections to other puppies, as a mother, your dog may decide to eat the puppies. 

How do you avoid this situation? It’s not that you shouldn’t handle your newborns, but you must wear clean clothes and be clean to avoid causing the puppies virus infections. 

Does a Dog Eat Dead Puppies?

Yes, dogs eat dead puppies. 

Why does it eat dead pups? The dog eats when it considers the dead pup a waste material during the afterbirth clean-up process. 

There is another instance when the litter has a sick puppy and is closer to death; the mother dog may identify it, and it may eat the puppy.

Why Does a Female Dog Bite Her Puppies?

Here are reasons why a female dog bites her puppies:

  • When the puppies are removed from the sacs.
  • When the female dog feels stressed and threatened. 

Does a dog bite her puppy purposely or accidentally? It happens accidentally, but this habit may vary according to the specific circumstances. 

Does the bite cause any damage to the pup? Yes, depending on the bite power, it can cause pain and injury to the pup. 

Sometimes, it can bite or bark at the puppy. It depends on how aggressively the female dog behaves with its puppies. 

Other guides and tools you might need when training your dog:

Final Thoughts

Now, you know all the reasons for dogs eating their puppies. 

As discussed, it’s not an inherited characteristic. Different situations, including its survival instinct, lead dogs to eat puppies.

However, as a dog owner, you must take care of the pregnant dog before and after birth. It will help to protect the entire litter of puppies. 

FAQs

No, it is not normal or common for dogs to eat their puppies, but it can occur in rare cases.

Dogs may eat their puppies out of stress, hunger, malnutrition, difficulty locating their pups, or due to Mastitis and lack of mothering experience.

The newborn puppies are being bitten by the mother dog due to stress, too much activity around the litter, and a feeling of being threatened.

Yes, it is common for mother dogs to eat their puppies’ poop.

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Laura Vinzy
Laura Vinzy is one of our contributors. She is also a certified professional dog trainer & currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and her two rescue dogs.

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