Feeding and nutritional guidelines for pregnant and lactating dogs

Female dog with suckling pups

Pregnancy is an important time in your dog's life and developing pups take a very definite toll on their mother's body, thus increasing her nutritional requirements significantly. In order to ensure your pregnant dog's health as well as the proper development and well-being of her puppies, optimal nutrition is necessary, both during pregnancy and lactation.

When pregnant or lactating, female dogs require considerably more calories, protein, calcium and phosphorus derived from high quality food sources in order to meet both their own and their puppies nutritional needs. Simply feeding a pregnant or lactating dog larger quantities of her usual adult dog food won't be sufficient to meet her body's demands. It may also be impractical as during pregnancy dogs have less space in their abdomen's to accommodate large meals, and during lactation, dogs may be preoccupied and therefore not too focussed on food.

When looking for a food that will be suitable for a pregnant dog, look for those that contain higher quantities of fat and protein as well as easily digestible ingredients so that your dog can extract the maximum nutrition from every meal.

So which foods meet these requirements? The answer is simple...high quality puppy foods. While experts recommend that you should feed your dog food specifically designed for its stage of life, when it comes to pregnant females, puppy food is definitely the diet of choice. In fact, if you examine the fine print on most puppy food packaging, you'll generally find something along the lines of it offering balanced and complete nutrition for growth and reproduction.

The term "reproduction" refers to both pregnancy and lactation. Do note however that puppy foods formulated for large breeds are NOT recommended during pregnancy and lactation as they generally contain lower caloric, calcium and phosphorus levels than those designed for smaller breeds, so rather stick to those for small and medium breeds, no matter what size your dog is. It is also very important to compare the package labels to ensure that you get the best product with adequate nutritional value for your dog.

How much and how often you feed your pregnant or lactating dog is just as important as what you are feeding her and will also be influenced by the number of puppies she is suckling. It is important to follow the labels on dog foods to get an idea of how much you should be offering in her throughout the pregnancy. These are guidelines and may differ based on your dog's size, breed and individual metabolism, so if you have any questions, consult your veterinarian.

It is important to keep in mind that your dog may lose her appetite slightly as her due date approaches. This is due to the fact that the puppies' growth is slowing and her stomach has less room to expand when filled with food.

Once she has given birth, lactation will commence and again her nutritional requirements will increase dramatically, especially if she has a large litter to care for. You should make puppy food and adequate quantities of water available to her at all times to ensure that both she and the suckling puppies remain well-nourished and hydrated. When the puppies begin to wean after three to four weeks, they too will begin to eat the puppy food and drink water. Leading veterinarians generally recommend that "Free choice" feeding for your adult dog and puppies continues until the puppies are fully weaned at 6 to 8 weeks. This should only be altered if the dogs gain too much weight.

Once you notice that your female dog has completely stopped milk production (generally 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth), you can begin to phase out the puppy food and slowly re-introduce adult dog food over the next 6 to 8 weeks until she is back to her usual routine. If however, you notice any change in body condition, consult your veterinarian.