Pregnant dogs require a specialized diet to ensure puppies develop properly. Pregnant dog care needs to be a primary concern, and the dog food you choose impacts fetal health and the overall health of the pregnant dog. Sometimes, the best foods for a pregnant dog are those you make yourself.
A typical dog pregnancy lasts 63 days. During this time, dogs must increase their intake of many nutrients to help with fetal growth and to ensure the mother dog is healthy and can produce milk for her litter.
When she is pregnant
Once a bitch is pregnant, she should be fed a high-quality, well-balanced performance diet throughout gestation, even though the pregnant bitch’s nutritional requirements increase only minimally during the first half of gestation. As a guideline, choose a highly digestible, very palatable commercial diet. It should contain at least 29 percent protein and 17 percent fat. High amounts of soluble carbohydrates and a low fiber content are important to ensure adequate energy intake and to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in late pregnancy. Adequate intake of calcium and phosphorous intake is important for adequate milk production by the bitch so that the pups’ bones form properly.
Dietary supplements, such as meats, milk, vitamins, and minerals are generally not recommended if a high-quality growth/lactation diet is fed. Feeding excessive amounts of calcium or vitamin D can cause calcification of the soft tissues of the fetus, as well as other birth defects. Supplementation with meat products can reduce the carbohydrate content of the diet and can be associated with hypoglycemia and stillbirths.
How much should you feed a pregnant dog?
Start to increase her food intake, bit by bit, from around week five of her pregnancy. Gradually increase the portion size a little more each week, so that by week nine her meal size is about a third more than normal. By this time, mom’s weight should have increased by about 25%, or more if she is expecting a large litter. Use controlled, measured portions to stop her overeating and becoming obese, as this can cause problems during pregnancy and labor. If you have any concerns about your pet’s weight during pregnancy, contact your vet.
It’s best to feed your pregnant bitch little and often, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, as a tummy full of puppies will mean she won’t have much room for food.
Many dogs will not eat when it comes to being 12-24 hours before whelping. This is normal, and you shouldn’t try to force her to eat. You should, however, make sure she’s, at least, staying hydrated by providing plenty of fresh water.
After your dog gives birth, she could have 8 to 12 puppies to nurse and occasionally more than 12! Since all these bodies need to grow, your girl will need special attention to her diet. Nutritional deficiencies in pregnant or nursing dogs are most likely during the first 4 weeks of nursing.
Here’s what you can to do:
- Switch your dog to a high-quality puppy food or active dog food. These foods will have the right balance of proteins and fats for her needs right now.
- If she has 8 or more puppies, rotate them as they nurse and weigh them frequently to make sure all the puppies are gaining weight. If you notice they aren’t gaining weight, you may have to feed some of the puppies. Your veterinarian can help you start this process.
- If you’ve been feeding your dog in controlled portions each day, switch to a free feeding method, and leave food out all the time, particularly if she is a picky eater to begin with, so she can take in as many calories as she needs.
- For each puppy she has, your dog will require a 25% increase in her caloric intake, up to around a 200% increase in calories. Even if she has 10 or 12 puppies it’s often difficult for dogs to eat much more than this and maintain normal digestive functions.
If your dog experiences diarrhea while nursing her puppies, it could mean that she’s eating a high volume of food in order to get enough nutrients to feed her puppies properly. It could be a sign that the food she’s eating isn’t digestible enough. To help her keep her puppies fed and avoid these tummy troubles, you can provide a more energy dense food. For a litter of 6 puppies or more, look for a dry puppy food or active dog food that’s at least 30% protein and 20% fat, or a wet food that’s at least 7% protein and 5% fat.
Eclampsia is still a poorly understood problem in whelping dogs and seems to affect smaller dogs more frequently. The signs associated with this problem are muscle spasms, seizure-like activity, and stiffness of muscles. This problem needs to be addressed quickly by a veterinarian with calcium supplementation, usually through intravenous support. The pups should be removed from the mother for 24 hours and the mother should start calcium and possibly vitamin D supplementation.