When your dog’s expecting pups it’s an exciting time, there’s little in this world cuter than a box full of puppies, but alongside the excitement there’s worry too, because not all pregnancies go to plan. It’s not a nice subject, but sometimes mother dogs can hurt their pups. This might leave you wondering if they’ll get hurt or even thinking do dogs eat their babies?

Let’s take a look at reasons why mother dogs eat their babies.

Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?

It’s not common, but yes dogs do sometimes eat their babies. It’s not something that happens a lot but it does occur.

Eating their young is not a behavior confined to canines. Other mammals like bears, hedgehogs, rats, primates, plus insects, birds, and reptiles sometimes eat their young too. Usually, if a mother dog eats her babies there’s a reason for it.

Husky mother with her litter of puppies.
It’s not common, but yes dogs do sometimes eat their babies.

©framsook/Shutterstock.com

Why Do Dogs Eat Their Babies?

If a dog eats their babies it’ll usually happen in the first few days after she’s given birth. Here are the main reasons why it can occur.

Accident

‘Do dogs eat their babies’ sounds harrowing but it’s not always done on purpose.

New mommas or inexperienced ones can sometimes accidentally kill or eat a newborn pup because they’re born in a sac that the mother pulls off with her teeth. Mother dogs also eat their placenta and this can result in a mix up, especially if the pup was stillborn. Dogs eat placenta to benefit from its nutrients, it’s totally normal and takes place in wild animals too.

Don’t Recognize Them

Another reason why dogs eat their babies is that the mom doesn’t recognize them as hers. This can be the case for new mother dogs or dams that have given birth and haven’t quite grasped what’s happened to them.

It can also happen at birth via cesarian section because special hormones are released when a mom dog gives birth and these trigger the bonding process. These bonding hormones aren’t always released if there’s an intervention and a mom waking up from a general anesthesia may panic when surrounded by loud puppies that she doesn’t know are hers.   

Make Prey Noises

Puppy noises sound cute to us and will often trigger a natural mothering instinct in dogs, but sometimes their squeaks coupled with their jerky uncoordinated movement mimics dogs’ natural prey such as mice, rats and birds so the natural reaction to hunt and kill may kick in.

Some experts think this is more likely in dogs with a rodent killing background like terriers rather than larger breeds like gun dogs for example.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a very painful condition brought on by nursing. It’s when a dam’s teats get swollen, sore and even infected by the constant feeding. Puppies look weak and defenceless to us, but they have a vice-like suction grip on mom’s teats and if they’re sore, it can really hurt her to feed them.

She may snap and become aggressive due to mastitis pain. On rare occasions, this may lead to killing and eating the babies, but is more likely to lead to rejection.

Puppies breastfeeding from mother outside on grass
Sometimes a mother dog may snap and become aggressive towards her babies due to mastitis, a very painful condition brought on by nursing.

©iStock.com/Andrii Zorii

Stress or Fear

Dogs gets scared and stressed like we do! Pregnancy is not only tiring, worrisome, and painful it leads to a whole new world of obligation. This can be very stressful to mom dogs who may lash out at her insistent young.

There’s also household or background stresses to consider. Other pets may stress mom out if they get near her or the pups, plus noises, strange smells, and visitors that want to see and hold the babies can all become overwhelming for her.

Sickly Pups

Pups can be born sickly with inherited or congenital diseases. This isn’t always easy for us to spot, but mom might and she can take action of her own accord such as rejecting or even killing and eating a sick puppy. This is a natural reaction to keep the rest of the litter safe.

Stillborn Pups

It’s the same with stillborn pups. The natural reaction for a dam is to remove the dead baby from the litter. This can mean burying them in the bedding, moving them to another part of the house, or simply eating them.

There’s also a risk that natural instincts might kick in and she’ll kill the living pups too. Pregnancy and nursing periods create a whole lot of hormones and emotions that make natural instincts more likely.

She’s Too Young

Young dams are more likely to reject their litter or behave in ways we’d consider un-maternal. Most experts recommend waiting at least a year before a dog has pups, but because dogs mature at different speeds, two years is considered a better amount of time to wait.

Bitches younger than two may not have the maturity to cope with a litter of demanding pups because she’s really still a pup herself. If she becomes desperate to escape the situation it can lead to cannibalism.

Will Mother Dog Kill Babies If I Touch Them?

As we’ve seen, pregnancy and after the birth period can be troublesome times because there are so many hormones and instincts kicking in. Most experts say it’s a myth and touching puppies won’t lead to the mother killing them. However, it’s best to keep some distance and only pick up or remove puppies that are sick.

Introduce yourself slowly, and let mom have time to settle. In most cases a family pet is pleased to show off her puppies, but hormones are tricky things!

Some dog breeders recommend waiting three weeks before picking up puppies and to go by the mother’s reaction to your presence in her space.

Mom Labrador retriever and puppies
After your dog gives birth, it is best to introduce yourself to the puppies slowly once the mother has properly adjusted.

©iStock.com/Suzana Dreno

How To Stop Dogs Eating Their Babies

Sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop a dog from eating her babies, but good practice before and after delivery will help to make it less likely.

Remember it’s very rare and the likelihood is low, but here are some steps to follow to make a smooth delivery and safe after the birth environment for mom and her babies.  

Pre-birth

Before a dog gives birth she will needs these things:

A Safe Place

Dogs will start nesting as their delivery date approaches. Nesting is a natural reaction and mom will try to make a safe place for her new family away from predators. Let her have a quiet undisturbed area of the house to make her nest in and don’t interfere with the setup. A crate or large high-sided dog bed is ideal.

Provide warm washable blankets so she can easily make it comfortable. She may chew them up or take fabrics from the house, so anything that’s precious ought to be locked away for the time being!

A safe place to give birth will help keep her calm as the big day approaches.

A Good Diet

Being pregnant is hard work and it requires high-quality food. An underweight and hungry pregnant dog will be anxious and liable to make poor decisions.

By the time she’s ready to give birth, she should eat around 25% more than her usual amount of food. Increasing it gradually means she can make the best use of the nutrients.

After she’s given birth, keep up the high quality food, she’ll need the nutrients to provide milk for the hungry pups.

During the Birth

Chances are the birth will go smoothly and mom will love her pups off the bat, but there are a few issues that can occur.

She panics

Be there for your dog, but don’t interfere with the process. Sit nearby and reassure her she’s safe. It usually takes anything from six to twelve hours for all pups to emerge, so patience is required.

Straining

Usually, the mom will lick herself and a pup will appear in a sac that she will deal with, but if she’s strained and nothing happens after 30 minutes there could be a problem.

Discharge

Any green or smelly discharge that appears before a pup is born can be a sign of infection.

No pups appear

If you know there are more pups, but she’s stopped trying to give birth, they could be stuck.

Fits or seizures

Weakness, spasms, tremors or fits of any kind indicate trouble.

If any of the above occur, call a vet for advice. Prompt treatment can prevent mom rejecting or eating her pups because she associates them with trauma.

The Following Weeks

The days that follow are the riskiest and the most likely time period a dog will eat her babies. It’s critical mom has the best care to avoid it.

Quiet

Peace and quiet is important so mom can bond with the pups and not get stressed over noises or other pets/children she might associate with danger.

Good Food

Nursing is hard work, so mom will need good quality dog food to keep producing enough milk. If she cant produce enough, she may kill one or more pups to save the rest. It’s rare, but can happen.

Don’t interfere

It’s tempting to get involved, but you should never take responsibility away from mom. She needs to be the one giving care, because it strengthens the bond.

Do Dogs Eat Their Puppies?

So we’ve discovered that mom dogs do sometimes eat their puppies and there are numerous reasons why this may happen. It’s not common, but with good practices you can help minimize the likelihood of it happening.  

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