A mother dog eating a puppy's placenta is a totally normal dog behavior; however, now that most dogs are assisted when they whelp, whether mother should eat a puppy's placenta or not remains a subject of debate. So let's discover why dogs eat their baby's placentas in the first place and what the experts in the field have to say about it.
One Sac For Each Puppy
A puppy's placenta, also known as afterbirth, is ultimately an organ that's designed to connect the developing puppy to his mother dog's uterine wall during gestation.
Thanks to the placenta, the puppy can receive oxygen and nutrients, stay at a normal body temperature and eliminate waste from the puppy's blood.
The placenta tends to pass through the birthing canal after each puppy is born, however, sometimes mother dog will have two or three puppies in a row and and then pass several of the afterbirths together.
Because each puppy has his own placenta, when a batch of puppies are born, it's common practice to count the number of placentas expelled to ensure that all have passed. This is because any retained placentas in dogs can lead to problems.
It can be sometimes challenging though obtaining an accurate count of the afterbirths considering that mother dogs tend to eat them very quickly.
4 Theories as To Why Dogs Eat Puppy Placentas
Did you know? The practice of eating placenta in scientific terms is known as "placentophagy." Why do dogs and other animals eat the placenta? While we still don't know for sure, there are several different theories. We have uncovered four. Let's discover them!
An Aid for "Uterine Involution"
One theory has is that, the placenta, containing high levels of prostglandins, can stimulate the "clean out" process, helping the uterus contract, and therefore, return to a pre-gestation size, a process that is medically known as involution. Dogs may therefore have a natural instinct to eat the placenta for these possible benefits.
Hiding Traces of Birth from Predators
There is also belief that eating the placenta held an important survival purpose. It helped hide any trace of birth that could have attracted dangerous predators and helped keep the den area clean from bacteria.
Source of Protein for Energy
The placenta's protein content may have also been helpful considering the great use of energy when giving birth and the fact that in the wild she could have not hunted for several days, explains veterinarian Betsy Brevitz in the book "Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers".
In a domestic setting, a different theory may be that eating the placenta occurs simply because prior to giving birth (parturition), mother dogs may cease to eat, and therefore, immediately after birth they may feel compelled to eat the placenta to satiate an intense sensation of hunger.
However, this theory can be disproven, considering that, not all dogs decrease their consumption of of food or water prior to giving birth.
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Helping With the Production of Milk
Finally, a fourth theory comes from a study on Maternal Behavior in Domestic Dogs. This study conducted by Karina Lezama-García et al. and published on the International Journal of Veterinary Science and Medicine, claims that, on top of favoring uterine involution, eating the placentas aids in the production of milk.
While dogs now live in comfy homes and are fed appropriate diets, it is possible that the instinct of eating puppy placentas is still hard-wired in our domesticated dogs.
To Eat or Not to Eat?
Should mother dog be allowed to eat the placentas? As mentioned, this is a subject of controversy. Some dog owners let their dog only consume one, just to provide their dogs with a little energy and satiate an instinctive behavior.
There are many reports of dog owners claiming that eating several placentas can cause diarrhea in mother dog, but do the experts in the field say?
Risks of Mother Dogs Eating Their Puppies' Placentas
Dr. Margareth Root Kustritz, a Diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists specializing in Small Animal Reproduction, suggests that dog owners remove the placentas quickly, as soon as they are expelled, as there's really no good reason for mother dog to consume them.
She claims: "Eating the placentas is an instinctive response, an attempt to keep the “den” clean. Ingested placentas can cause gastroenteritis, with significant vomiting and diarrhea."
The cause for this is the fact that the placenta is highly laxative, explains dog breeder Ann Seranne in her book: "The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog." Allowing a small dog to eat more than two at the most could lead to bouts of diarrhea.
Dr. Kustritz also shares a case of a dog eating too many placentas gone wrong in her book: "The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management."
She reports: "I am aware of one dog whose intestines were obstructed by ingested placentas; surgical intervention was required."
Now That You Know...
As seen, dogs have their own good reasons for instinctively wanting to eat their puppy's placentas. Eating the placenta can help the uterus return to its normal pre-pregnant size, favors the production of milk, its protein content may have been helpful in allowing mother dog to recuperate energy, and back in time it helped maintain the den clean and odor-free.
However, nowadays, whether mother dogs should eat the placenta remains a subject of controversy.
Some experts say that there is really no need for dogs to eat them and that they can actually lead to digestive upsets, which is the last thing you want when mother dog should be healthy and caring for her puppies.
- University of Minnesota, Whelping by Root Kustritz, retrieved from the web on June 23rd, 2016
- Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, by Betsy Brevitz, Storey Publishing, LLC (November 8, 2006)
- The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management E-Book – Margaret V. Root Kustritz
- Lezama-García K, Mariti C, Mota-Rojas D, Martínez-Burnes J, Barrios-García H, Gazzano A. Maternal behaviour in domestic dogs. Int J Vet Sci Med. 2019;7(1):20-30. Published 2019 Jul 21. doi:10.1080/23144599.2019.1641899
- VCA Animal Hospital Breeding for Pet Owners - Whelping in Dogs, by Ernest Ward
- The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog, By Ann Seranne