First broadcast on  

This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Cannibalism is an uncommon problem in dogs, but it does occur from time to time when a bitch has had a litter and kills her puppies

The precise cause of cannibalism in dogs is not fully understood. It usually occurs in the first couple of days following birth when the female kills one or more of her litter. Sometimes there is little external evidence of injury on the puppies, in other cases there are obvious teeth puncture wounds, or part of the puppy may have been eaten.

Situations in which cannibalism may occur include the following :

  • Very nervous, highly strung bitches will sometimes neglect or kill their puppies soon after they have given birth. This is most likely to occur if she has been disturbed or frightened in the post-natal period.
  • Deformed (eg cleft palate), small or weak puppies are often neglected or killed by their mother. This seems to be  normal instinctive behaviour, which would make sense in the "wild" so that valuable resources (milk) are not wasted on puppies that are unlikely to survive. 
  • Excessive cleaning of the umbilical cord may lead to chewing which can accidentally extend towards and involve the abdominal wall of the puppy. 
  • Ulceration of the skin can occur because the mother is over-diligent in licking her offspring.

Once a bitch has started to kill or neglect her puppies they should be separated from her and a foster mother found, or they should be raised by hand using artificial milk-replacer.

Once a mother has neglected or killed her puppies she should be neutered as she is likely to behave in the same way if she gets pregnant again


Updated October 2013