What makes the healthiest food for pregnant or nursing dogs?
Your pup won’t crave pickles and ice cream during pregnancy and nursing, but her nutritional needs are incredibly important.
By Rudy Leschke —
4 Minute Read
health + nutrition
While your pup most likely won’t crave pickles and ice cream during pregnancy and nursing like some of her human counterparts, her nutritional needs during this short window of time are incredibly important to her health, and to the health of her puppies.
3 Primary needs for Pregnant + Nursing dogs:
- A diet that's highly-digestible and energy and nutrient-dense.
- A diet that provides the appropriate levels of key nutrients required for fetal growth.
- A diet that provides enough calories to support milk production & prevent drastic weight loss in the mother.
Practical feeding tips for gestation include recommending feeding a diet that is highly-digestible and energy and nutrient-dense. Foods designed for all life stages, or for growth and reproduction (puppy food), generally meet these requirements and are an appropriate diet for pregnant mothers. It’s also important that the pregnant mother is consuming the key nutrients required by her growing puppies. These are equally important for pregnant mothers as fetal growth progresses. In particular, the micronutrients highlighted need to be present in the diet at adequate levels to ensure healthy development of the fetus. So, we refer back to our recommendations on puppy foods.
Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals & amino acids)
- Calcium – 0.8% to 2.5% - essential for bone & tooth development
- EPA & DHA – 0.05% DHA & 0.08% EPA - support vision & brain development
- Linoleic acid & Zinc – 3.5% Linoleic acid & 250 mg/kg Zinc - support healthy skin & coat
- Vitamin E – 550 IU/kg of food
- Vitamin C – 75 IU/kg of food - support immune health
- Selenium – 0.8 mg/kg of food
- Amino acids – act as building blocks for proteins & are essential to proper body function
- Taurine – 0.15% - supports heart, eye & brain function
Calcium needs do increase during pregnancy and for normal milk production during lactation, but supplementation is not necessary. The increase in calcium needs during pregnancy and nursing is met by consuming increased amounts of a complete and balanced diet.
In addition to selecting a high-quality diet, feeding levels and feeding frequency need to be carefully managed. There is only a slight increase in a mother’s weight and nutritional needs during the first 5 to 6 weeks of pregnancy, so no increase in food quantity is needed and could lead to excessive weight gain. After this point, food intake should increase by up to 50%, depending on litter size. Also, as developing puppies increase in size, there is a reduction in abdominal space which may may limit the ability to consume adequate food. To counter this, it may be important to feed several smaller meals throughout the day. Body weight should increase by about 15% to 25% at the time of birth and feeding levels should be managed to achieve this.
The most important nutritional consideration during lactation is providing enough calories, which supports enough milk production and prevents drastic weight loss in the mother. Feed 1.5 times mores during the first week of nursing, 2 times more during the second week, and 2.5 to 3 times more during the third to fourth week. Feeding amounts then decrease in a similar progression until puppies are weaning at approximately 7 to 8 weeks. Feeding levels should be adjusted to maintain the mother’s body weight.
Foods designed for all life stages are appropriate to feed throughout the pregnancy and nursing periods. However, if maintenance of the mother’s weight during nursing proves challenging, a high-performance food designed for high-energy dogs is appropriate.
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