Dogs are wonderful companions who keep us company when we’re lonely, protect us, and seem to understand us even better than people sometimes do. They can be loving toward one another as well, and anyone who has witnessed a couple of dogs nuzzling and snuggling knows how sentimental and seemingly “human” our canine companions can be.
But sometimes, dogs do things that seem confusing or frightening to people. Unfortunately, there have been cases where dogs have attacked, killed, and eaten other dogs—which is, as defined by the dictionary, cannibalism. But are dogs cannibals?
This article will look at cannibalism in dogs and discuss reasons why you might see such a thing. We will also talk about ways to reduce the likelihood of your dog ever eating another dog.
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Do Dogs Eat Other Dogs?
Let’s be clear about one thing right out of the gate: Providing statistical data on cannibalism in dogs is challenging. This is because setting up a study where dogs are potentially provoked into cannibalism would violate animal rights on pretty much every level imaginable.
That being said, there was a study done many years ago as part of scientific research. In 1932, researchers presented eleven dogs with two types of dog flesh: raw and cooked. The results showed that only two of the dogs refused to eat the raw dog flesh. Eight of the dogs ate the raw canine flesh more than 50% of the time, and five of this group accepted the raw meat every time. All eleven dogs consumed the cooked flesh.
Even when controlling for hunger, the researchers discovered that it was more likely than not that the dogs would eat the meat of another dog.
It’s important to consider that researchers conducted the study almost 90 years ago and that the control group consisted of only 11 animals. Statistically speaking, this is not robust data supporting cannibalism in dogs. It’s also likely that the animals were unaware of the origin of the flesh. Nonetheless, this small study did demonstrate that dogs did not seem to eschew the flesh of their own kind, as we might expect them to.
How Rare Is Cannibalism in Dogs?
Looking past that single study from the 1930s, it’s pretty unlikely that dogs will ever receive the flesh of another dog in the everyday modern world. So what are the chances that dogs engage in cannibalism otherwise?
The short answer is: Not very likely.
That’s because spontaneous cases of cannibalism in dogs typically involve a situation where an animal has an abnormal mental state (from abuse or neglect), conditions in which a dog is starving, and, most commonly, cases of mother dogs eating their young for various reasons.
There are many anecdotal stories about people witnessing dogs attacking, killing, and even eating other dogs. Suppose you’re interested in reading about it and formulating your own opinion on the matter. In that case, there’s an entire Quora thread dedicated to this topic (warning: some of the text can be graphic, so proceed at your discretion).
Reasons People Cite for Dogs Eating Other Dogs
These are some of the most common reasons mentioned involving cannibalism in dogs:
- The dogs were abused and tended to attack other people or other dogs
- A stray or feral dog was skinny and likely starving, so it attacked another dog
- Witnessing a hungry dog eating the corpse of an already-deceased animal
- A mother dog eats her young
By far, the most witnessed and documented phenomenon is the last item on the list—when a mother dog eats her young.
This occurrence still isn’t “common,” but it is likely what prompts people to ask questions like, “Are dogs cannibals?” So let’s take a closer look at this below.
Do Mother Dogs Eat Their Young?
It is uncomfortable—maybe even heartbreaking—to think about a situation in which a mother dog might eat her puppies. But the answer to this question is yes, sometimes a mother dog will eat her young.
Most dogs have strong maternal instincts, and even if they are first-time mothers, they typically take good care of their pups. Some breeds might be a little more suited to motherhood than others (labs and retrievers come to mind), but in the end, they are still animals. And all across the animal kingdom, we have witnessed mothers abandoning, killing, and even devouring their babies. It is sad but a fact.
The first thing to know about this is that you aren’t alone—your dog certainly isn’t the first to do this, and she won’t be the last. The next thing to know is that sometimes you can help prevent circumstances in which a dog might cannibalize her puppies, but there are other situations in which you won’t be able to prevent anything at all.
Here are some reasons a mother dog might resort to eating her young.
- She is inexperienced, or it is an accident.
When a puppy is born, it still sits tucked inside the sac where it grew within her uterus. The mother will lick and bite at the sac to get the puppy out. If she is anxious or hasn’t done this before, she might accidentally bite the puppy too hard.
She may also tear the placenta away from the puppy by the umbilical cord. While separating the pup from the placenta is necessary, she might rip the puppy’s skin if done too forcefully, resulting in accidental disembowelment.
- She is too stressed or is suffering from mastitis.
Like humans, dogs lose their tempers. Sometimes a mama dog might growl at or bite her pups. Her predatory instincts might prevent her from recognizing what she’s doing in the worst situations. Cannibalism can be the result in such cases. Mastitis is an infection of her breast tissue that can make feeding pups so painful she may attack them just to relieve the pain.
- It may be something else entirely.
Other reasons include the mom being too young and eating her young as a way to get away from a frightening situation that she isn’t prepared for. It could also be that the puppy might be too unhealthy to survive—moms sometimes perform “mercy” killings to increase the chances of survival for the healthy pups.
What Kind of Meat Do Dogs Prefer?
Dogs evolved to eat meat. They have taste buds that can differentiate sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. Different breeds tend to prefer different kinds of meat, but there are some consistencies overall.
Most dogs prefer the taste of beef or pork over poultry. They highly prefer moist food to dry food, and they would much rather dig into something warm than cold.
It may also surprise you to learn that dogs are not strict carnivores. Instead, they are omnivores, and they do enjoy eating some plants! Some beneficial plants for dogs include dill, fennel, sage, thyme, nasturtium, and rosemary. So, if you enjoy gardening, be sure to choose dog-safe plants and herbs to avoid any stomach issues—or worse.
As you can see, dogs have evolved to seek out a variety of meat and plants. They don’t have a natural inclination to pursue the meat of another dog when given access to enough food with adequate nutritional value.
Conclusion for Are Dogs Cannibals?
Although dogs have been known to eat other dogs, it is not common to see a dog resorting to cannibalism. With proper care—particularly for pregnant and nursing dogs—along with adequate nutrition, you won’t have to worry about ever having to cope with cannibalism in dogs.
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