5 FAQs about feeding your pregnant or lactating bitch
What should I change my bitch’s diet to when she is pregnant or lactating?
The nutrition of a pregnant bitch is important during all stages of gestation in order to ensure optimal health and growth of the newborn puppies. Although a dam's nutritional requirements increase during the last trimester of pregnancy, nutritional deficiencies are most likely to occur after birth, when her body must cope with the stress placed on it by the demands of lactation.
The goals of feeding are to provide adequate nutrition so that her weight increases by 15-20 percent by the time of whelping and to help her maintain optimal body weight after parturition, when she must produce sufficient quantities of milk and colostrum to support growth in the newborn pups until they are weaned.
Moving to a high energy dog food such as a puppy formula for the period of pregnancy is beneficial as the additional calories and higher levels of other key nutrients are perfectly suited to the nutritional requirements of the pregnant or lactating bitch. This is particularly advisable if your bitch is quite lean, or you suspect she may have a large litter of puppies.
As with the transition to any new dog food, moving to a high energy formula should be done on a gradual basis, from approximately the sixth week of pregnancy. Progressively substitute a little more of the new dog food for the old over a period of about a week, until she is only eating the new food. An expectant mother will require gradually increasing amounts of high quality food to nourish both herself and the developing litter. For the first four to five weeks of pregnancy, a normal size serving should suffice. If your dog has a past history of weight issues, seek your vet’s advice about how to increase her intake of key nutrients without risk.
Will my bitch be likely to have any changes in appetite?
During weeks three and four, your bitch may suffer from a little nausea and lose her appetite, similar to morning sickness in humans. If an upset stomach or loss of appetite lasts longer than a week, or is accompanied by listlessness, you should contact your veterinarian.
In the later stages of pregnancy, the space left in her abdomen may be very small, so feeding dog food little and often will make her more comfortable.
Should I increase her food intake prior to Parturition?
By the time the bitch is ready to give birth, her calorie intake should have increased by 15 to 25 percent. She should be fed dog food free choice to ensure adequate food intake. Most bitches refuse food approximately 12 hours prior to whelping. It is important at this time to encourage water intake to prevent dehydration and weakness during labour. After giving birth, she must resume intake of highly palatable, good-quality dog food as soon as possible. If the mother is inexperienced she may be reluctant to leave the pups and it may be necessary for you to take food and water to her.
What effect does Lactation have on her nutritional requirements?
The bitch can suffer from nutritional deficiencies during lactation as her physiology will prioritize the utilization of nutrients. The top priority is lactation and puppy growth, and she will deplete her body reserves at the expense of her own health for that purpose, therefore, all nutrients are needed in increased amounts.
Many factors affect the caloric requirements of the lactating bitch, including the number of pups, the size of the breed and the temperament of the dam. As a rule of thumb, at peak lactation you should increase a bitch's dog food intake by 25 percent per puppy above what is usually required to maintain her body weight, although it is best to feed free choice.
Most commercial dog foods do not contain sufficient nutrient density, especially caloric content, to support lactation. The feeding of these products is the most common cause of malnutrition and therefore it is very important to provide the bitch with a high-energy dog food which has been formulated to provide all of the necessary nutrients to keep mum and pups healthy.
How is puppy food different from adult food?
Puppy foods are higher in protein (28%-30%), and enriched with higher amounts of fat soluble and water soluble vitamins, minerals, fats, and other essentials a growing puppy requires.