Feeding The Gestating And Lactating Dog

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

Feeding The Gestating And Lactating Dog

by Gail Kuhlman, Ph.D., P.A.S.

There are many factors which need to be considered when achieving optimal breeding performance. These factors include: genetics, health, environment, management and the feeding of a proper diet. Breeders can screen animals for genetic faults and abnormalities. Prior to breeding, a physical examination should be given. Environmental and management factors should be chosen to be conductive for optimal reproductive performance. The feeding of a proper diet for the reproducing animal begins during their growth and development period and should continue throughout mating, gestation and lactation.

Feeding Prior to Mating

The body condition of breeding stock individuals is important. Both the sire and dam should be in excellent physical condition, well exercised and not overweight or underweight. If the sire is over- or under-weight, he may be inefficient for breeding. It is essential that the dam is in optimal physical condition. If she is underweight, she may not be able to consume enough food during gestation to meet her nutritional needs and the needs of the fetuses. If she is overweight, a lower conception rate may occur and problems may be noted a whelping.

A complete and balanced diet should be fed. Therefore, the need for any supplementation of vitamins or minerals would be unnecessary. Providing supplements at this time, may even be considered detrimental, as supplements may alter the nutrient balance of an already complete and balanced diet. Fresh drinking water should be available at all times. A highly digestible food that is energy dense can be given. If a change in diet is required, this should be done gradually overtime to avoid gastric upset or weight loss. The dog’s body condition should be muscular, with no signs of being over- or under- weight. Dogs should be fed once or twice per day only, not ad libitum.

Feeding Throughout Gestation

After breeding, the bitch’s food intake will gradually increase. A slight increase in the dam’s weight and nutritional needs will be noted during the first 5 to 6 weeks of gestation. Contrary to popular belief, the bitch should not receive a greater amount of food immediately following breeding. An increase of food at this time is unnecessary and may result in an undesirable weight gain. After the fifth week, however, the fetuses will be growing very rapidly, and optimal nutrition is imperative. During the fifth or sixth week of gestation, the bitch’s food intake should gradually increase so that at the time of whelping her intake is 30%-50% that of maintenance.

During this time, it is advisable to feed several small meals throughout the day, as her abdominal space is limited due to the growing fetuses. It is important to provide an adequate food supply at this time so that the bitch does not become underweight and have difficulty maintaining weight and providing the necessary milk supply at parturition. It is also important, however, not to overfeed the bitch as excessive weight gain may result in heavier fetuses and complications at the time of whelping. A complete and balanced diet labeled by the manufacturer for all life stages or for gestation and lactation should be fed.

Bitches may discontinue or reduce their food intake up to 24 hours prior to whelping. It is normal for the bitch to refuse all food approximately 12 hours prior to whelping. However, once the bitch has whelped and her puppies are resting normally, she should be provided with fresh food and water. Most bitches will begin eating within 24 hours after whelping. If her appetite needs stimulation, the food may be moistened with warm water. This will assure that adequate fluid is being consumed. The bitches post-whelping weight should be approximately 5% - 10% above her pre-breeding weight.

Feeding Throughout Lactation

As the lactation phase is extremely stressful, it is essential that the bitch is provided adequate calories throughout lactation. Appropriate energy intake allows for ample milk production and prevents weight loss of the bitch. Fresh water should be provided at all times to assure a sufficient volume of milk is produced. Bitches having minimal energy stores at this times, especially if combined with large litters, and are at an extremely high risk of demonstrating excessive weight loss, poor body condition and malnutrition.

The bitch will generally consume two to three times their maintenance energy requirement during lactation. As a general rule, feed 150% of the maintenance energy requirement during the first week of lactation, 200% of maintenance during the second week, and 300% of maintenance the third and fourth week of lactation until weaning. Peak lactation occurs during the third to fourth week. Solid or semi solid food can be introduced to the pups following this period. The amount of milk consumed by the pups will begin to decrease as their solid food intake increases.

It is recommended that during lactation, a complete and balanced energy dense diet is fed. It is advisable to feed several meals throughout the day so that the bitch can consume enough to meet her demanding nutritional needs. It is also suggested that after three weeks of lactation, the bitch is fed separately from her pups so that the pups do not consume her food. The food can be moistened if necessary for enhanced palatability. Supplementation should be avoided unless recommended by a veterinarian, as over-supplementation may create health problems. It is essential that fresh water is supplied at all times as an inadequate fluid intake may result in a decrease in milk production.

Feeding Throughout Weaning

The weaning process of the pups normally occurs at approximately six weeks of age. This will leave the bitch in a very stressful state. Continued milk production may result in the incidence of mastitis. If the bitch continues to produce milk, several days of limited feeding should relieve this scenario. It is recommended to withhold all food from the bitch on the day of weaning. Allow the bitch plenty of fresh water during this time. Reintroduce food slowly to the bitch at intervals of 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of her maintenance energy needs on consecutive days post-weaning. The bitch can then return to a maintenance diet or continue to consume the diet she was on during gestation and lactation. If the gestation/lactation diet is fed, the amount of food offered should be reduced. If a different diet is to be offered, a gradual change, over a five to seven day period, should be made. Puppies can also be gradually changed to a puppy growth diet at this time.

Proper feeding and management practices during gestation and lactation will assure adequate body condition of the bitch and minimize weight loss during lactation. If a weight loss occurs during lactation, it should be limited to less than 10% of the bitch’s normal body weight. Furthermore, the condition of the bitch at the time of breeding significantly affects the success of the gestation/lactation process and the body condition of the bitch at the end of the reproductive cycle. A good feeding program is, therefore, essential to achieve maximum litter size, healthy puppies and to maintain the bitch’s body condition so that she can provide adequate milk production for her pups.

Estimated Maintenance Energy Requirements*:
Toy Dog (3 - 12 pounds) 150 - 450 kcal/day
Small Dog (13 - 20 pounds) 450 - 700 kcal/day
Medium Dog (21 - 50 pounds) 700 - 1500 kcal/day
Large Dog (51 - 100 pounds) 1500 - 2400 kcal/day
Extra-Large Dog (101+ pounds) 2400+ kcal/day

*Energy requirements vary with breed, temperament, activity level, age, physiological state, environment, housing, etc.

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