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Dogs who are pregnant or nursing will require different food than they did before breeding—they need more calories to grow those babies!
Some common mistakes that pet parents make, however, when feeding a pregnant or nursing dog, are to feed too much too early in the pregnancy, and then not enough during lactation. Here’s what you need to know about feeding your pregnant dog.
The First Half of Pregnancy
A dog’s pregnancy lasts around 63 days. For the first 4 to 5 weeks, your dog can be fed her regular adult dog food.
The Second Half of Pregnancy
For the last half of your dog’s pregnancy, you should supply about 30-50% more calories than what she was eating before, depending on the number of puppies. Your dog’s weight should increase by 15-30% over this time period, from the puppies and from increased body weight.
If you’re already feeding your dog a high quality food, she probably won’t require any additional dietary supplements during the pregnancy. Some experts believe, though, that the food chosen should be fortified with two fatty acids called EPA and DHA. These are the same fatty acids found in many human baby formulas and are thought to improve the neurologic development of puppies. Look for fish oil in the ingredient list to boost your dog’s intake of these important fatty acids.
Many dogs will not eat when it comes to be 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 hand 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.
- For example, a dog eating 3 cups of a high quality dog food each day before breeding will now need about 9 cups of food a day, in order to feed herself and provide for 8-10 puppies.
Your veterinarian can recommend a food that meets her higher demands for fats and proteins during this time.
Spotting Potential Problems
Diarrhea: 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, so she has to eat a high volume, and then her intestines must expel the excess.
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. This way, you can decrease the amount of food you give her and still keep all those pups fed and growing.
Eclampsia: 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. Blood tests on dogs with eclampsia are usually low in serum calcium, low in blood glucose, and sometimes low in blood magnesium concentration.
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. Often this is a transient event and the pups can be returned to the mother for normal feeding after the problem has been addressed.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.
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