Feeding during pregnancy

Pregnant dog sitting inside

Having puppies is an incredibly exciting event, and it is important you meet the nutritional needs of your pregnant bitch to help increase the chances of her pregnancy and birth going smoothly.

What you feed during pregnancy makes a real difference and sets both her and her puppies up for the best health possible. 

Weeks 1-6 of pregnancy

Once you have confirmed your bitch is pregnant, and have an estimated conception date, the goal for the first six weeks is maintenance of her ideal weight.

Early weight gain can increase the risk of dystocia (problems giving birth), so maintenance at her ideal body condition score (of 4–5) is the aim and weight gain during the first six weeks should be at a maximum of 10%.

During this period, the embryos are growing quite slowly and there is no increase in the pregnant bitch’s energy requirements. She should therefore be fed on an adult maintenance, complete and balanced, good quality commercial diet, and you should stick with the normal feeding guide.

Due to the hormonal changes she is experiencing you may see a dip or some fluctuations in appetite – don’t worry, this is normal. However if it persists or she seems to be starting to lose weight you should take her to your vet for a check.

Weeks 6-9 of pregnancy

At approximately day 42, two main changes start to occur:

  1. The energy and nutrient needs of your pregnant bitch start to increase as the growth of the foetuses pick up speed
  2. The space she has to accommodate this food in her stomach starts to decrease as the foetuses start to occupy more of the abdomen

For these reasons, it is important that at this point you adjust her feeding.

If you have had her scanned (with an ultrasound scan at the vet) you may know approximately how many puppies to expect and this can help with feeding too. If you know she is expecting a large litter she will need an extra energy and nutrient boost, whereas if she is only expecting one, you may need to be more cautious with the amount you feed so the foetus doesn’t become too large.

From week 6

Over a course of approximately five days, you should transition the bitch from her current maintenance food onto a puppy formula. A gradual change is needed to avoid any tummy upsets.

Feeding a puppy food from this stage is important, since it is higher in energy, protein, and certain vitamins and minerals including calcium and phosphorus compared to an adult food. All of these nutrients are important to support the bitch during the latter stages of pregnancy and to help provide her puppies the nutrients they need to develop.

Puppy food is more nutritionally dense, so this is also helpful, since stomach space is starting to decrease and you may therefore start to see a reduction in your bitch’s appetite.

You should select a good quality, highly digestible diet as this will reduce the workload on the bitch’s gut to break it down and ensure she receives as many nutrients as possible from it. Consider her size when selecting a puppy food too – for example, a small breed bitch should be fed the small breed puppy product.

Once you have transitioned across to a puppy food you should then also start to gradually feed more. A useful rule of thumb is feeding an extra 10% energy per week until birth.

Table showing energy requirements for a pregnant bitch

To ensure she is able to eat this, particularly with the smaller amount of stomach space, you should start to offer the food in little and often meals, rather than two large meals per day. Feeding dry or wet is an important consideration. If you choose to feed a wet food, you will need to feed a much greater volume daily which, particularly in larger breeds, could be a very large quantity by week 9.

Keep an eye on the bitch’s body condition score throughout this period: whilst she will put on weight during this final third of pregnancy, it is important she doesn’t become too overweight, or it could lead to problems during birth.

Don’t forget water! Ensure your bitch has easy access to plenty of fresh, clean drinking water, particularly if she’s on a dry-food formula during pregnancy. This will be particularly important after birth during lactation too.

What about vitamin and mineral supplements?

If your bitch is being fed an appropriate, complete and balanced commercial diet, then no vitamin or mineral supplements are needed during pregnancy. The only exception to this would be if your vet has specifically prescribed otherwise.

In fact, supplements can be harmful. For example, over-supplementation of calcium can suppress the parathyroid gland in the bitch (the gland important to mobilise and balance calcium in the body) and lead to eclampsia (where the uterus fails to contract properly during birth).

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