Feeding The Pregnant Bitch
Filed in Dogs, Nutrition
Feeding for a successful pregnancy starts long before conception. Ideal body condition is critical for normal litter size and normal delivery of the pups. Less than ideal body condition can lead to failure of conception, small litters, or even loss of the pregnancy. Too much condition (fat) can lead to difficulty delivering the puppies without intervention.
Many people make the mistake of feeding too much during pregnancy and not enough during lactation. For the first two-thirds of the pregnancy (approximately 42 days), energy requirements do not increase. A normal maintenance diet, fed at maintenance levels, is adequate to maintain good body condition. During the last one-third of the pregnancy (approximately 21 days), fetal size greatly increases and body weight of the bitch should increase 25-30% over her starting weight. The necessary increase in food corresponds to this gain, she should eat 25-30% more by whelping. Some dogs with large litters have difficulty taking in enough calories because of the space the puppies are taking up in the abdomen. It is important to switch to a premium performance or puppy formula at this point. Large breed puppy formulas with restricted protein, fat, and calcium levels are inappropriate for pregnancy and lactation.
Once the puppies are delivered, the bitch should still be 5-10% above her pre-pregnancy body weight. If not, she may be too thin to provide adequate milk to the puppies. Dogs, unlike cats, can increase their feed intake to increase milk production. Feeding free choice is important during lactation. Also, plenty of fresh water is critical. During the third and fourth week of lactation, a large breed dog can require as much as six liters of water per day!
Many people want to administer calcium supplements to their pregnant bitch. This not only does not help, it may harm. Excess calcium predisposes to eclampsia (milk fever, hypocalcemia) and dystocia (difficult birth). A high quality, energy dense diet is all that is needed to provide the nutrition for a successful pregnancy and postpartum period. If you want to administer a supplement, check with your veterinarian. Certain supplements should be avoided during pregnancy, while others are acceptable.