Birth and lactation stress a female dog's body and significantly increase her nutritional requirements. Many dams exhibit a lack of appetite just before whelping -- the term used for the birth of puppies. Since whelping may take many hours, dams are often hungry and thirsty when it's over. Immediately after birth, and in the subsequent weeks during lactation, it's important to provide the new mother access to plenty of fresh water and nutrient-dense food.
Gestation is approximately nine weeks in dogs. Most fetal growth occurs during the last two weeks of pregnancy. During the last few weeks of pregnancy and in the ensuing weeks after birth, when the dam is lactating, a high-protein growth diet is required. If feeding commercial dog food, begin gradually switching the dam's diet to a premium puppy food during the fourth or fifth week of the pregnancy. In addition to providing higher protein and more concentrated and bio-available nutrients, a growth diet like nutritionally balanced, premium, commercial puppy food is more easily digestible than standard adult dog food. Continuing feeding this growth diet after the dam gives birth. It will aid in needed repair and replacement of body tissue. If feeding homemade dog food, be aware that a lactating dam's energy requirements will be two to four times higher than her prepregnancy energy requirements and she may need additional fat in her diet to maintain her body condition. Check with your veterinarian for advice on feeding homemade meals to a dog who has just given birth.
Within a few days after giving birth, the dam's appetite will increase two to four times. Make sure a high quality puppy food and fresh water is available at all times. It's important for the dam to eat often, throughout the day, to maintain her body weight while she is nursing her pups. Don't take up food and water, and do not leave dishes where puppies can crawl into them. Instead, hang dishes from the side of the whelping box.
Before and after birth, small amounts of cooked egg and cottage cheese may be added to a dam's diet to provide extra protein. If a vitamin and mineral tablet was fed to the dam before birth, continue it after birth. If feeding a premium, high quality dog food, vitamin and mineral supplements may not be necessary. Check with your vet to ensure the dam is receiving the proper balance of nutrients.
When the puppies are about four weeks of age and starting to eat some soiled food, begin gradually changing the dam's diet from a high-protein growth diet back to a standard adult maintenance diet. The dam will naturally begin to decrease milk production. Weaning will be complete when the puppies are about seven weeks old.
- The Merck Veterinary Manual: Feeding Practices
- The Dog Health Guide: Whelping Puppies
- Pet Education: Pregnancy Diagnosis and Caring for the Pregnant Dog
- Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM and Susan Hubble Pitcairn
- Pet Education: Caring for Newborn Puppies and Their Mother