Why Do Dogs Eat Their Puppy's Placenta?

Why do dogs eat their puppy's placenta? Let's face it: some things dogs do may seem to us a bit revolting, but if we look at the underlying biological reasons, we may notice that these behaviors often make sense and follow the course of nature. Eating a puppy's placenta is 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 take a closer look at to why dogs eat their baby's placentas in the first place and what the experts in the field have to say about it.

One 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 normal body temperature and eliminate waste from the puppy's blood. Each puppy has his own placenta. so when a batch of puppies are born, it's common practice to count the number of placentas expelled to ensure that all placentas are expelled. Any retained placentas in dogs can lead to problems.

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A Matter of Theories 

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. One theory has is that, the placenta, containing high levels of prostglandins can stimulate the "clean out" process and help the uterus to return to a pre-gestation size. Dogs may therefore have a natural instinct to eat the placenta for these possible benefits.

On top of that, there is 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. Its 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". While dogs now live in comfy homes and are fed appropriate diets, it's possible that this instinct is still hard-wired in our domesticated dogs.

To Eat or Not to Eat

After mother dog is done whelping, she will often be expelling any remaining placentas. Generally, the placentas are expelled after each puppy is born, but in some cases, when two puppies are expelled just one after the other, two placentas will follow. 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. There are many reports of dog owners claiming that eating several placentas can cause diarrhea in mother dog. What do the experts in the field say? Dr. 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.

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  • 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)