Before Pregnancy: Plan Ahead
If you're planning to breed your female dog, it’s important to assess her body condition well in advance of breeding. Because of the physical demands of pregnancy and nursing, a dog with less-than-ideal health can experience problems:
- An underweight dog often has difficulty consuming enough food to support both her own nutritional needs and those of her developing puppies.
- Overweight dogs may experience abnormal or difficult labor because of large fetuses.
Be sure to feed the proper amounts of a complete and balanced diet. This will support the mother's healthy weight and body condition before breeding and help maintain her health and that of her babies throughout pregnancy and lactation.
Pregnancy: Monitor Your Dog’s Weight Gain
The gestation period for dogs is nine weeks. Pregnant dogs gain weight only slightly until about the sixth week, and then gain weight rapidly.
The energy requirements of pregnant dogs are reflected in the pattern of weight gain. Pregnant dogs will need to consume 25% to 50% more than their normal food intake by the end of pregnancy, but energy requirements do not increase until about the sixth week.
The best diet for pregnant and nursing dogs is a high-quality, nutrient-dense pet food formulated for all life stages or for growth. Although puppy diets are generally recommended for pregnant or nursing dogs, large-breed puppy formulas may not be appropriate for this use due to their adjusted energy and mineral content.
Nursing: Make Sure Your Dog Gets Sufficient Nutrition
Pregnant dogs lose weight after giving birth, but their nutritional needs increase dramatically. Depending on litter size, nursing dogs might need two to three times their normal food requirement to nourish their pups. Be sure your nursing mom has plenty of water so she can generate the milk volume she needs to feed the litter.
To help your nursing dog get enough nutrition, you can try several tactics:
- Feed a nutrient-dense diet such as puppy food.
- Without increasing the amount of food offered at a meal, increase the number of meals throughout the day.
- Free-choice feed her, offering unlimited access to dry food throughout the day.
Weaning: Return to a Pre-pregnancy Diet
By four to five weeks after birth, most puppies are showing an interest in their mother’s food. Gradually, the puppies will begin eating more solid food and nursing less. At the same time, the nursing mother will usually begin eating less. Most puppies are completely weaned around age 7 to 8 weeks. By this time, the mother's energy requirement is back to normal, and she should be eating her normal pre-pregnancy diet.