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The point is that the dam’s nutritional level must be very high to allow this normal variation of nutrients and optimal nutrition for the puppies. A specific example is the so-called “toxic milk” syndrome, which can affect puppies between 3 and 14 days of age. This condition may be caused by uterine infection and/or mammary gland infection but some cases respond to zinc supplements suggesting that the disorder may be due, in part, to inadequate zinc intake. 2 This example illustrates the necessity of a high nutritional plane to supply the various nutrients required by the nursing bitch.

Failure to consume colostrum (first milk) during the critical period when the intestine is open to intact protein absorption seriously compromises the immune status of the neonatal puppy. 5 This occurs either through the bitch’s inability to produce colostrum or the puppies’ inability to nurse properly. Suitable corrective action requires the manual collection of colostrum from another bitch or a frozen source then administration to the puppy via stomach tube. 5 “Tubing” puppies can be difficult for beginners. Your local veterinarian or an experienced breeder can demonstrate the technique for you. The use of a puppy stomach tube is a skill that all breeders should be familiar with.

Although much less desirable, colostrum from another species, e.g. cow’s colostrum, may be used. The antibodies provided by cattle colostrum may not be protective for the puppy, but other nonspecific defenses may be utilized (lysosyme, lactoferrin, and oligosaccharides). 5 These nutrients protect the puppy against bacteria by destroying the pathogen or protecting the puppies intestine against bacterial toxins.


Most dog breeders are unaware of the large quantity of milk produced by lactating bitches. For example, milk intake of Beagle puppies is about 5.5 ounces per day each. With an average litter of pups, a Beagle bitch will need to produce about one quart of milk per day!3 Larger breeds will be required to produce substantially more milk each day. Milk production decreases as puppies begin eating solid food, but milk alone can support normal growth in puppies up to four weeks of age.1 Regardless the large amounts of healthy milk required by most litters necessitates a very high level of nutrition for a successful nursing process. This fact, plus the reality that puppies are totally dependent on their mother’s milk for nutrition and hydration, makes the production of large quantities of high quality milk even more poignant.

1.Lonnerdal B: Lactation and Neonatal Nutrition in the Dog and Cat, 13-15 Canine Reproductive Health, The Iams Company, 1997.
2.Moser JE: The puppy from birth to six weeks. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 8:79-100, 1978.
3.Oftedal O: Lactation in the dog: Milk composition and intake by puppies. J Nutr 114:803-812, 1984.
4.Moser D: Feeding to optimize canine reproductive efficiency, Probl Vet Med 4:454-550, 1992.
5Lepine AJ: Nutritional Considerations Affecting Canine Reproduction, Managing Canine Reproduction, The Iams Company, 23-27, 1997.
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