What Makes Mother Dogs Eat Their Puppies?

Mother dog and puppy

You may have come across this strange question if you are a dog lover. This is one of those topics that no one wants to discuss. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen, mother dogs may occasionally eat their newborn puppies. When a female dog gives birth to a litter of puppies, it is usually a happy occasion. These cute little puppies are so adorable and tiny. But unfortunately, not all of them mature into adults. 

Puppy deaths do happen and sometimes the mother is the obvious cause of these deaths. This is breeders' and owners' worst nightmare; a mother eating her pups. Unfortunately, this is behavior is not rare in the canine world. It is actually called Puppy cannibalism. The question is what makes mother dogs eat their puppies? To answer this question, the following are some of the reasons for this barbarous behavior.

Hormonal Problems

While Cannibalism is a forbidding topic, it's important to know why it occurs. Cannibalism is simply unimaginable to us as humans. But, it's not impossible in the canine world. It is uncommon in dogs, especially when the litter is born at home rather than in a noisy or crowded kennel. Puppy cannibalism can happen right after birth or even a few days later. Female dogs of any breed are capable of cannibalizing their puppies.

Some mother dogs turn to cannibalism for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they do not recognize the puppies as their own. Dogs produce a variety of hormones throughout the birthing process. Some of them are responsible for recognizing the pups, creating an automatic maternal bond.

But sometimes those hormones are not released; this is very common if the puppy was born through unconventional means. If the pregnancy is risky, a cesarean section may be required. A cesarean section is when veterinarians use surgery to remove puppies from the womb. Those hormones are not always released since the puppies aren't born through the birth canal. 

That is why things can quickly go out of control when the mother finally wakes up to find a litter of puppies she doesn't recognize. This is because as a natural hunter with a high prey drive, she may mistake her puppies for rodents or squirrels, as they are not much different in size from newborn puppies. The interesting thing about it is that the hormones can be released several days or weeks after a cesarean section. Therefore to avoid any accidental killings or cannibalism behavior, the mother should be separated from the pups until she gets the important hormones.

Lack of Recognition

A mother dog that is inexperienced may not recognize her puppies as her own offspring. Puppies in their first few weeks of life move erratically and produce high-pitched sounds. These actions are similar to those of prey animals like mice. Some dogs, particularly terriers and terrier hybrids, have a history of catching mice. Though any mother dog is capable of cannibalism, these dogs may unconsciously be forced to eat their puppies if they do not recognize them as their own. 


This is a serious disorder that affects mother dogs, it is an inflammation of a female dog teats. The infected teats may be swollen, red, and hard to the touch. After birth, puppies need to be able to feed on their mother's milk, but feeding can be a very painful experience if your female dog has Mastitis. While you can feed your puppies with bottles and formula, it is always preferable for them to suck their mother breasts. Not only does it provide additional nourishment, but it also serves as an important bonding exercise.

The dam may experience serious pain when the puppies clamp down to suckle, this may cause her to reject the puppies. She will be in excruciating pain as soon as the puppies latch on, the pain can sometimes be so intense that the dam becomes hostile against her offspring, killing and cannibalizing them. Some will even reject the puppies or discard the litter as a whole. 

Fear or Stress 

For dams of any species, giving birth is a stressful experience. Your dog is scared, tired, and having to deal with a litter of howling puppies. Female dogs sometimes make poor decisions as a result of stress. They can growl, bark, and even bite those lovely pups. Predatory instincts can set in, which in rare situations can lead to cannibalism. 

Other than giving your female dog enough love, food, and care, there's not much you can do to relieve stress. It's ideal to keep the male dog separated from the mother and puppies, as it presently has been shown to increase the stress levels for the female dogs. These negative emotions like fear or stress can lead to aggression. This aggression could be aimed at the puppies, which could lead to cannibalism. 

Unhealthy Puppies

It is possible for newborn puppies to become sick and die. A puppy's growth might be hampered by respiratory issues, infections, and a variety of other health problems. As a dog owner, you can easily spot these problems after birth. When puppies don't spend time with the rest of the litter or cannot eat, it is very likely that they won't live much longer. Just like you, mother dogs can spot those signs.

When other pups depend on her to survive, she will have to make a tough decision. Killing and eating her pup removes these health risks from the rest of the litter. It is compassion killing that puts an end to the pup's suffering and ensures the survival of the rest of the litter.

Too Early to Bred

Lastly, a dog may eat her puppies because she was not ready to be a mother. Female dogs should not become pregnant during their first heat cycle, according to expert dog breeders. This is because they are still young. They are a little bigger than any puppy and are not ready to take on those maternal responsibilities.

Prematurely pregnant dogs are notorious for being unfit moms. They will lash out at the puppies and display abnormal behaviors for mothers. In most cases, unprepared young mothers will abandon the litter. Though, cannibalism can also occur. 


Cannibalism is an unfortunate fact of life in the animal kingdom. While we typically think of our dogs as wonderful creatures that would never hurt anyone, it is important to remember that they also have instincts. It's uncommon for mother dogs to eat their children, but it does happen. The easiest way to prevent this barbaric behavior is to keep a close check on your dogs. Keep an eye on the puppies and the mother's activities and interactions. If you notice any red signs, like aggression, you should separate the dog and ask your veterinarian about what to do.

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