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During a healthy pregnancy, female dogs increase their weight by 20% to 25% (1). Therefore, nutrition during that period should be of high quality and rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
The overall condition and weight of future mother dogs will influence their health, the milk they produce, and the well-being of their puppies (2). It is vital to determine how to feed a pregnant dog and what the best diet for a nursing dog would be.
In most cases, there is no need for considerable modification of the feeding in the first four weeks. Similar to most adult dogs, pregnant female dogs will need one meal a day that contains at least 26% of proteins (3).
This will ensure the constant weight of the animal since there is no need for the dog to gain extra pounds before the sixth week. Only then will it be necessary to change the rhythm of the diet and provide more particular food for pregnant dogs.
Structuring a Diet for Pregnant Dogs
In general, feeding a pregnant dog is not complicated, since pregnancy is relatively short and lasts 63 to 65 days on average (4). There is no need to change the dog's diet during the first few weeks. Until the fourth week of pregnancy, most females eat regular adult dog food as usual.
Diet from 1 to 3 weeks
Healthy food for dogs includes high-quality commercial dog foods or home-cooked food.
Even though meaty bones are a natural meal for canines high in calcium, the pregnant dog can eat them only up to sixth week of pregnancy. After that, bones are not recommended to avoid eclampsia (milk tetany) during lactation (5).
Also, it is crucial to avoid exposing the dog to medications, vaccines, and chemicals since it is the period when embryos develop (6). Any harsh chemical substances may affect them negatively and may cause congenital disabilities.
Diet from 4 to 6 weeks
In the beginning, it is recommended to increase the amount of food by 1% to 2% (7). After the fifth week begins, pregnant dog's energy needs will increase by at least 10% per week with the development of puppies.
Note that your pregnant dog may have trouble eating due to sudden body transformation. The best solution is to add a snack meal and start feeding the future dog mom with food that contains high-energy ingredients and is high in calories (8).
In the fifth week, you should increase meals significantly since this is when the fetuses begin growing faster (9). You should feed your dog two to three times a day with food containing at least 26% to 30% protein.
By the sixth week, puppies keep growing, and the capacity of the mom's stomach will shrink in proportion (10). Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the sizes of portions and increase the frequency of feeding instead.
A pregnant dog in this stage should eat at least three to five times a day. They need meals high in fat, so the best choice is red meat, including boneless beef, pork, and duck. Avoiding foods rich in Vitamin A, such as chicken liver or cod liver oil, is crucial since it may put the fetus in danger (11).
Diet from 7 to 8 weeks
In the final third of pregnancy, the dog needs high-energy, nutritionally balanced meals, and gradually increased volume of food (12). Therefore, the future mom will consume 50% more food by the eighth week than usual.
Even though high-quality food excludes additional dietary supplements, particularly calcium from bones, some experts recommend fortifying portions with EPA and DHA fatty acids either from foods like fatty fish or fish oil supplements (13). They are essential for the development of the nervous system in puppies.
Diet in the 9th week
Since the dog needs less food during the last week of pregnancy, you must decrease the portion volume by half. In some cases, the future mom should get even 75% less food relative to the previous week. It is not too worrying if the animal stops eating altogether for a brief period since she has made lots of reserves during the last weeks.
Diet Shortly Before Labor
In most cases, the labor is grueling and often causes stomach upset. Therefore, there is no need to force the dog to eat right before it comes. However, the animal will need to drink enough water to avoid dehydration during labor (14).
You should prepare small, easily digestible meals containing the puppy food and high-calorie treats to help the dog’s body to absorb the nutrients effectively. When the dog gets them every few hours, her body will still get 15% to 25% of food more than before pregnancy without unwanted nausea and vomiting.
Essential Nutrients for Pregnant Dogs
The future dog mom needs adequate doses of A, E, D, and B12 vitamins.
Vitamin A – Deficiency of this vitamin in a pregnant canine may cause anomalies of the fetus or even early miscarriage.
Vitamin D – It optimizes and boosts brain development in the fetus. Therefore, the pregnant dog needs to get some fish and cod liver oil in the meal, which is rich in this vitamin. However, be careful not to overdose.
Vitamin E – Deficiency may increase fetal anomalies and a higher mortality rate. Also, hypovitaminosis may cause damage to the heart and brain, as well as the degeneration of skeletal muscles.
Vitamin B12 – Deficiency can cause a higher mortality rate of the fetus and newborn puppies, as well as their stunted growth.
Macronutrients and Micronutrients
Pregnant female dogs need an adequate level of iron, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus in their meals, especially in the last 30 to 35 days of pregnancy, when the bones of the fetus grow considerably.
Ca – The dog will need the ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus (from 1,1: 1 to 1,5: 1) during pregnancy. However, excessive intake of calcium in this period may cause problems after labor.
Fe – Iron requirements are increased during pregnancy to prevent stunted fetal growth and the weak immunity of puppies after labor.
Zn – It is an essential mineral for the proper development and growth of the fetus. Deficiency may cause a reduced weight of newborn puppies.
Best Dog Food for Pregnant Dogs Brands
Preparing homemade dog food meals allows the owner to easily track specifically what nutrients are included in the meal, as well as their amount. However, commercial dog foods may be more convenient, and several brands are specifically balanced for this. Some of the best dog foods for pregnant dogs are these below.
Proper nutrition is a primary requirement in pregnant canines. Gradually increasing the food intake and frequent feeding with small meals will ensure the adequate growth of the fetus and good health of the pregnant dog. Regular consultation with the vet will help in calculating the precise time of labor and provide a healthy pregnancy and desired fetal progress.
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