Why would a new mother eat her newborn puppies?

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Our question this week was:

I raise Shih Tzu's and yesterday one of my first time mothers delivered 2 healthy puppies and 2 that died. The puppies were nursing well and mommy was doing great (or so it seemed). If she was out of the playpen to eat and the babies cried she went running to them. This morning she ate the heads of both puppies. I am not sure if they died first or she killed them. They were fine 45 minutes before I discovered them decapitated. Is such behavior a sign of ill puppies, bad mothering, or just nature?

Cynni Francis

Answer

Hi – thanks for your email. I'm very sorry to hear about the puppies. Sometimes it is difficult to see nature at work.

Your question is a very good one and your situation is a relatively common one. In many cases, it is thought that the mother senses that something is "wrong" with the puppy, which leads her to "dispose" of them. Scientifically, this has been proven to often be the case. I've seen occasions when puppies taken away from the mother when something like this starts to happen to later find out that the puppy has some severe genetic problem or congenital abnormality.

I don't think it was poor mothering but some instincts that lead her to believe that there was something wrong with these puppies.

I've also seen occasions when severe stress on the mother will cause her to kill her puppies. Stress such as company, or times when she is not left alone can be stressful

Sorry to hear about this.

Regards,

Dr. Debra

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