The science behind dogs licking their puppies

Young puppy resting next to its mother

As pet owners, we often observe our dogs engaging in behaviours that intrigue us. Among these behaviours, dogs licking puppies stands out as a fascinating phenomenon. This article probes into the causes and implications of this behaviour, providing an understanding for pet owners.


When a mother dog gives birth to her puppies, her maternal instincts naturally kick in. One of these instincts involves licking the puppies promptly post-birth and frequently thereafter. You may wonder, why exactly do dogs lick their puppies so much?


The act of a mother dog licking her newborns serves multiple functions such as maintenance of the health and development of the puppies. Interestingly, licking is not solely driven by affection. While love plays a part, it is not the exclusive reason for this behaviour.

Why do dogs lick their puppies?

Puppies are vulnerable and the mother dog's instinct is to keep them warm, fed, and safe. By licking her puppies, the mother dog cleans them and stimulates them to breathe. Additionally, she removes any remnants of the placenta and consumes whatever she cleans from them. This behaviour serves as a survival instinct, concealing any scents that might attract predators.

Helping puppies eliminate waste

A vital aspect of a mother dog's care involves aiding her puppies to excrete waste. Newborn puppies are unable to do this independently for a few weeks. Mother's lick their puppies' genital areas to trigger the reflex to urinate and defecate. This might seem alarming, but it is a crucial survival instinct. It helps conceal the puppies' scents from predators and keeps the nesting area clean, preventing the spread of diseases.

The pet owner

As the pet owner, your primary role is to ensure that the mother dog can perform her duties effectively. Provide her with a warm, comfortable, draught-free, and calm spot. Old towels, newspapers, or worn-out blankets are suitable for the nesting area.


Mother dogs lick their puppies for many reasons. It’s a natural instinct for adult dogs to lick them, and most mothers adapt to it without difficulty. For the most part, the mother should be left alone with her puppies.

Changes in the mother’s behaviour

Post-birth, the mother dog may behave differently. Her main priority shifts to her new offspring, and she might become more territorial and protective. If you observe any unusual behaviour from the mother dog, particularly if she’s neglecting food for the puppies, it is wise to consult a vet.

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What happens when an older dog licks a puppy?

In instances where an older dog licks a new puppy, there could be several reasons behind it. It could be a habitual behaviour the other dog has developed as a stress coping mechanism, or it could be due to the older dog sensing an underlying issue with the puppy.

Sensing illness

If the puppy has a minor infection that you haven’t noticed, the older dog might sense it and lick the area to clean it. Despite not being the puppy's parent, the older dog retains parental instincts and can detect illnesses in pups that might not be visible to you.

Grooming instinct

Another reason an older dog might lick a puppy is due to a grooming instinct. An older dog's instinct might lead them to maintain the puppy's ear hygiene. This mutual grooming helps foster bonding and build the relationship for harmonious cohabitation.

Evaluating the older dog’s behaviour

If your older dog suddenly starts licking the puppy when they hadn’t before, it could be linked to the puppy’s health. In such cases, it would be wise to schedule a veterinary check-up and mention the sudden change in the dog lick behaviour.


Understanding why female dogs lick puppies can enhance your experience as a pet owner. Natural instincts and motherhood hormones guide them in caring for their newborns. If you would like to talk to one of our dog insurance team, you can get in touch with us on 0330 102 5748.

In the case of older dogs licking puppies, recognising the reasons behind this behaviour can help maintain a harmonious environment for all your pets. It is always advisable to consult a vet if you observe any sudden changes in your dog's behaviour.

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