Many dog owners are rightly worried about whether their dog will eat its own puppies, especially when the mother goes into labour. Is it common? Does it happen often? And can you do anything to prevent your dog from eating its own young? Keep reading to find out!
What Are Cannibalism, Predation, and Infanticide?
When a predator kills and eats its prey, it is a form of predation. However, if an adult animal kills and consumes an infant or young juvenile of its own species, it is called cannibalism. Cannibalism is common in nature, especially among non-human animals such as spiders and insects. Cannibalism has been observed in more than 1,500 animal species worldwide (or approximately 1%).
Furthermore, cannibalism has been documented in every type of vertebrate animal group except for one: humans. Infanticide occurs when an individual kills another member of her own species during infancy or childhood. It may be committed by siblings, parents, other adults, or even aunts/uncles/grandparents on their nephews/nieces/nephews/grandchildren.
Infanticide can occur for several reasons including access to food resources; avoiding detection by predators and reducing competition with other family members over food resources. The prevalence of infanticide varies greatly between different animal species with primates exhibiting particularly high levels of infanticide compared to other mammals and birds.
In fact, 90% of all known primate infanticides occur within lemur families! There are two types of infanticide, namely fratricide, and sororate. Fratricide occurs when an individual kills his/her brother(s) or sister(s). Sorority refers to killing your spouse’s sibling(s) so that you can mate with your spouse without being cuckolded. This differs from fratricide because it only involves the killing of relatives whereas fratricide involves the killing of both relatives and non-relatives.
Do Dogs Eat Their Own Puppies?
It turns out dogs can be cannibals, and not just in a metaphorical sense—some breeds of dogs actually prey on their own kind. It’s natural for puppies to form groups, as you’d expect from members of a species that are social hunters.
But occasionally these packs turn out to be less about safety and more about predation, with some pups being eaten by other pups. It’s not clear whether it’s caused by hunger or something else, but it has been seen in several breeds like German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers.
What is clear is that dog cannibalism is rare
Just look at how many new Labradors there are versus how few cannibal attacks have been reported! Still, if your dog goes missing while they’re young, keep an eye open. This behaviour seems to peak when they’re between two months old and three months old. It’s also important to note that while most pups do grow out of eating each other once they reach maturity, a small number may continue preying on younger animals even into adulthood.
These are known as redirected biters and need to be closely supervised around younger animals if you want them to remain safe from harm. If your adult dog is acting aggressively towards their litter, it might just mean they miss having puppies around—but it could also mean they’ve never grown out of their more predatory instincts.
A Dangerous Breed
While cannibalism in dogs isn’t common, it’s more common among some breeds than others. In particular, German Shepherds appear to be especially prone to taking down members of their own kind—as much as 20% of all pup deaths in GSD litters are due to cannibalism. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why some breeds tend towards aggression over others; genetics play a big role here.
It’s not a well-known fact, but domestic dogs are descended from wolves. Wolves have been observed eating their own young—or at least, they appear to be doing so.
However, no one is entirely certain if these instances of cannibalism are actual acts of cannibalism or if something else is going on. Most evidence indicates that wolf pups were eaten by their mothers as a result of foraging for food when prey was scarce—but other evidence suggests that some cases may be related to genetic disorders in domestic dog populations. It’s difficult to tell for sure.
What we do know for sure is that human intervention has resulted in dogs becoming less carnivorous and more omnivorous than their wild cousins. While most domesticated dogs don’t eat people (or puppies), some will consume meat and even meat-based treats like rawhide bones.
When Is Cannibalism Usually a Bad Idea?
Cannibalism is rarely a good idea, but that doesn’t mean it never works. Some carnivorous animals consume their own offspring only when they have no other source of food available, and even then they are very selective in what parts they eat. While almost every other part of a prey animal’s body may be eaten by another animal, there are some instances where certain body parts are deemed off-limits. This means that female dogs needn’t worry about ending up on their pups’ plates—at least for now.