What to Feed a Pregnant Dog
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Diet is an important part of any dog's care. When they are pregnant, we need to ensure the health of not only the mother, but any puppies she may be expecting. The right diet for a pregnant dog is not simply to do with how much they eat. We also need to be considerate of any specific nutritional benefits we can provide. To understand this, we need to factor their energy requirements and the nutrition they provide to puppies in utero.
For these reasons, AnimalWised discusses what to feed a pregnant dog. We look at the best ways diet can positively influence canine pregnancy to ensure the health of mother and puppies. We also show you how this may change after she gives birth.
Characteristics of a pregnant dog
Once you know your dog is pregnant, you will want to find ways to ensure optimal health. This requires catering your care to the two main stages of their pregnancy. Over an average 64 day gestation period, a dog's pregnancy is divided into:
- First dog pregnancy stage: during the early stages of the embryo development, the mother does not show many noticeable signs of being pregnant. In particular, she should not be seen to gain weight.
- Second dog pregnancy stage: from 42 days onward, the fetuses will grow rapidly. Around this time they will reach up to 80% of their birth weight, increasing the mother's corresponding weight accordingly. The larger the litter, the large the mother will be. By the end of the pregnancy when the mother dog is about to go into labor, their weight should not exceed 25% of their normal weight (in large bitches) and 30% of their normal weight (in small bitches).
As a placental animal, the fetuses will be fed from the mother throughout the gestation. This is why the food we feed a pregnant dog is vital. If their nutrition is insufficient or they are fed inferior quality food, it can affect the development of the unborn puppies.
Do you need to change the diet of a pregnant dog?
In the first stage of canine pregnancy, we do not need to modify the type of feed we give to the dog. While it can be difficult to tell if a dog is pregnant, as soon as we suspect it, we should have it confirmed by a veterinarian. If the dog has any underlying health complications or pre-existing conditions, they will be able to advise on any specific dietary changes they may require.
After the first month and a half of gestation, the situation changes. In the second stage, we need to gradually introduce food which is both highly digestible and provides sufficient energy. By providing food with higher energy levels, we can give the dog smaller portions. The higher energy content of food we give a pregnant dog also helps to ensure the mother can birth properly and remain healthy after her pregnancy.
Smaller portions help to ease the digestion of a dog whose gastrointestinal system is under more duress than usual. When a bitch is pregnant, their abdomen will be distended due to the fetuses in her uterus. This means there is less room for food digestion. Ideally, we should break the pregnant dog's daily food intake into smaller more numerous portions throughout the day to avoid overloading.
However, providing smaller portions does not mean we should give the dog less food. On the contrary, from the fourth week on you will need to incrementally increase the amount of daily food intake for a pregnant dog. By the time we reach the ninth week of pregnancy, the total amount should increase by about a third.
Nutritional needs of a pregnant dog
While we know that more food can help a pregnant dog stay healthy and provide for her unborn puppies, there are more specific nutritional requirements we need to consider. A pregnant dog will need;
- Energy: during the last third of her pregnancy, a bitches energy needs are multiplied by 1.5. Their diet should reflect this need by providing a higher caloric content.
- Protein: due to altered breast development and the growth of the fetuses, a pregnant dog's protein requirements are also very high during the last stages. Protein may need to increase up to 70% of their normal intake. Insufficient protein may result in low birth-weight of the puppies.
- Fatty acids: essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 are vital for the early stages of the puppies' development. They are particularly important for brain and retina development, helping to improve learning, memory and vision. We even found one study which suggested fish oil supplementation during pregnancy could increase the chances of male puppies, although these findings are inconclusive.
- Folic acid: folic acid may potentially reduce the likelihood of a cleft palate in brachycephalic dog breeds.
- Minerals: other minerals and vitamins should be given in balanced doses through their feed. If they are unable to receive their vitamin requirements through food alone, only then should vitamin supplements be given. First discuss this with your veterinarian.
All of the above nutrients and dietary requirements should be covered by providing the right food. This is difficult to do with homemade food for dogs, but a good quality commercial feed should suffice.
Best dry food or wet food for pregnant dogs
As we stated above, you can make homemade food for pregnant dogs. Many caregivers choose to give their dogs food they make at home, some even resorting to raw food or BARF diets. However, these are difficult. Some of them are unable to provide the right levels of nutrients, particularly taurine and vitamin D. In these cases supplements can be used.
Most commonly, a tutor will give their pregnant dog a commercial brand of dog food. These vary in quality, so do your research and buy one with good reviews for complete nutrition.
You will still be able to make up a lot of their diet with dry dog food. However, since you need to increase the amount of protein they need, you can add some more wet food. Don't use all wet food. Once the dog enters the latter stages of her pregnancy, she will not be able to exercise as before. Wet dog food generally has higher fat content, so giving her too much can make her overweight and may provide difficulties for the puppies.
Excess weight and other problems for pregnant dogs
Since weight gain in a pregnant dog should not exceed 25-30% by the end of her pregnancy, we need to do what we can to control her weight. To help us do this, it is a good idea to keep a pregnancy journal and note her weight throughout.
Ideally our dog should be the right weight before she becomes pregnant. This is because adipose tissue can affect reproductive function and lead to issues with embryo development. Obesity in dogs is also a major complication when it comes to canine pregnancy. Fat can infiltrate the myometrium (a layer of the uterine wall) and reduce the force of uterine contractions. Another issue is that excess weight can make the physical nature of labor more difficult.
Obesity is also a risk because many tutors believe their dog needs more food as soon as they are pregnant. This is not the case. Nutritional deficiencies in the mother can cause congenital problems such as malformation, problems with the central nervous system and other pathologies in the puppies.
What to feed a bitch after giving birth
Just before a mother dog gives birth, they will stop eating altogether. However, if the dog stops eating, but shows no other signs she is going into labor, it is possible there is a complication. The reason she stops eating just before is because she will need to nest. This means looking for a safe place where she can give birth to her puppies in comfort.
Once the puppies are born, the mother will need access to quality food right away. She will not necessarily eat immediately, but it should not take her long since she needs to lactate for her newborn puppies. First time mothers may be too inexperienced to leave their puppies and find food, so make sure it is accessible. If she still does not eat, then it is possible there is a problem.
The mother will take over the care of her puppies and feed them with her milk. This is why feeding her properly is still vital, since her puppies rely on her for survival. If there is any reason she cannot feed them, we will need to take over and feed them ourselves.
If you want to read similar articles to What to Feed a Pregnant Dog, we recommend you visit our Gestation category.
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