Nutrition and bodyweight management are crucial for the health of a pregnant dog and her puppies. While your dog may not require as many doctor visits as people do during pregnancy, you wi’ll still need to understand how to take care of a pregnant dog. This can be achieved by consulting your vet who can evaluate and treat her for both internal and external parasites that could pose a threat to her or her offspring. Pregnancy in a dog is one of the most exciting, but delicate' times in the life of a female dog. Hence, providing sufficient care during the early weeks of pregnancy is critical.
Signs of dog pregnancy
It can be difficult to notice anything unusual in your dog during the first few weeks of her pregnancy. However, you can watch out for subtle signs of pregnancy in dogs.
- Reduced activity
Your pregnant dog will get tired easily and spend more time napping. For dogs that usually have a high energy drive, this decrease in activity should be considered carefully. It may be difficult to spot a decline in energy in dogs who love resting all day. So, if this is the case, pay attention to how quickly she feels exhausted during walks.
- Strange behavior
You will observe certain changes in your dog's behavior if she is pregnant. For example, she may crave her owner's comfort more frequently. A pregnant dog will spend more time around you, seeking extra attention. At times, she will also prefer solitude and would not want to be bothered. And when given attention, she may appear depressed or even irritated.
- Alterations in appetite
Appetite fluctuations are another sign of pregnancy in dogs. She may eat less or perhaps even vomit sometimes, early or midway through the pregnancy. However, she may consume more than normal and be unhappy with her meals. These changes are caused by your dog's shifting hormones.
- Weight gain and belly enlargement
Your dog's abdomen will grow in size as the puppies grow. This can be one of the most obvious signs of a dog's pregnancy, particularly if your dog hasn't gained weight for any other reason. However, because enlargement of the abdomen happens late in a dog's pregnancy, and if you detect this sign, it’s time to take her to the clinic.
Proper nutrition requirements during the pregnancy
Proper nutrition for pregnant dogs is important in this period. Therefore, extra caution and care should be given while providing food for pregnant dogs and caring for them.
Feeding your pregnant dog with a high-energy diet is important since she requires higher energy during such delicate times. Along with letting a baby grow in her womb, she will also be gaining body weight. That’s exactly why your vet will advise you to provide your dog with a high-energy diet with appropriate levels of fat, carbs, and protein. So, make sure to give her as much food as she likes unless she has a tendency of gaining weight.
A dog's pregnancy usually lasts for nine weeks on average. During the first six or seven weeks, the food intake shouldn't be higher than normal. Use a puppy formula to feed your dog as it will enable her to stay strong. Puppy food is also more nutritionally packed, making it easier to pass through the mother's smaller stomach. In fact, providing puppy food during the first six or seven weeks will be beneficial later as well. It will eventually provide essential nutrients to your dog’s puppies through the mother's milk when they are born. Then, between weeks six and seven, start giving her additional food as per her weight gain. By the ninth week, her appetite may wane or vanish. This is usually a sign that the puppies will be born within the next few days.
Pregnancy and nursing are not only responsible for many changes in a dog's body, but for changes in her lifestyle as well. If your dog is pregnant or nursing, pay special attention to her changing nutritional needs as she carries, delivers and nurses her puppies.
A week-by-week overview of your dog’s pregnancy
Weeks 1 and 2
- Breeding occurs
- Fertilization occurs
- Fertilized eggs embed into the female’s uterine lining
Weeks 3 and 4
- Embryo develops
- Spinal cord slowly begins to develop
- The fetus grows facial features
Weeks 5 and 6
- Other organs develop
- Legs, eyes, and other features develop
Weeks 7 and 8
- The puppy/ies are well developed
- Slowly move around in the abdomen
- The puppy/ies are fully developed
- Labor begins
Which vaccines are required before and during your dog’s pregnancy?
Before dog pregnancy:
There are certain vaccines that you should consider giving your dog before she’s pregnant.
The Canine Task Force of the American Animal Hospital Association believes the following canine immunizations to be essential:
- Canine Distemper
- Canine Parvovirus
During dog pregnancy:
In general, normal pet owners will not need to vaccinate a pregnant female dog. If she is up to date with all her vaccinations, there is usually no need to give her an additional booster shot just because she is pregnant. Moreover, even veterinarians discourage vaccinating pregnant dogs.
Nutrition during nursing in large and small breeds
The nutritional requirement for large-breed dogs differs from that of small-breed dogs. While you would want to shower your pregnant dog with endless foods and treats, it is best to refrain from it. Overfeeding could lead to obesity towards the end of pregnancy. This will increase the risk of difficult labor, which will thereby cause stress to the dog. Hence, during these delicate times, following the feeding guide provided by your vet is a must.
A small breed dog needs more calories per pound than a large breed dog to sufficiently sustain her puppies during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding. The to-be mother dog’s food consumption should be increased by roughly 15% to 25% as she nears the date of delivery.
Small dog breeds should be fed a small breed puppy food. Therefore, choose a highly nutritious puppy diet for your dog based on the size of the breed.
Before pregnancy: plan ahead
If you're planning to breed your female dog, it’s important to assess her body condition well in advance due to the physical demands of pregnancy and nursing, a dog with less-than-ideal health can experience problems.
Be sure to feed the proper amounts of a complete and balanced diet. This will support the mother's healthy weight and body condition before breeding and help maintain her health and that of her babies throughout pregnancy and lactation.
Pregnancy: monitor your dog’s weight gain
The gestation period for dogs is nine weeks. Pregnant dogs gain weight only slightly until about the sixth week, and then gain weight rapidly.
The energy requirements of pregnant dogs are reflected in the pattern of weight gain. Pregnant dogs will need to consume 25% to 50% more than their normal food intake by the end of pregnancy, but energy requirements do not increase until about the sixth week.
The best diet for pregnant and nursing dogs is a high-quality, nutrient-dense pet food formulated for all life stages. Although puppy diets are generally recommended for pregnant or nursing dogs, large-breed puppy formulas may not be appropriate for this use due to their adjusted energy and mineral content.
What food should be avoided while caring for a pregnant dog?
Raw foods are not recommended for nursing or pregnant dogs. Most dogs can get by on high-quality dog food alone, so unless your veterinarian suggests otherwise, you should avoid giving your dog any additional vitamins or supplements.
A good option is to give your pregnant dog IAMS™ PROACTIVE HEALTH™ Mother and Baby dog food. It supports the mother’s gestation and milk production for healthy puppy development while also boosting your puppy's training capacity with vital DHA for healthy brain development, making its first year of life a pleasant one.
Nursing: make sure your dog gets sufficient nutrition
Pregnant dogs lose weight after giving birth, but their nutritional needs increase dramatically. Depending on litter size, nursing dogs might need two to three times their normal food requirement to nourish their pups. Be sure your nursing mom has plenty of water, so she can generate the milk volume she needs to feed the litter.
To help your nursing dog get enough nutrition, you can try several tactics:
- Feed a nutrient-dense diet such as puppy food.
Instead of increasing the quantity of food in a single meal, increase the number of meals throughout the day.
Adopt free-choice feeding and, offer unlimited access to dry food throughout the day.
Weaning: return to a pre-pregnancy diet
By four to five weeks after birth, most puppies start showing an interest in their mother’s food. Gradually, the puppies will begin eating more solid food and nursing less. At the same time, the nursing mother will usually begin eating less. Most puppies are completely weaned around age 7 to 8 weeks. By this time, the mother's energy requirement is back to normal, and she should be eating her normal pre-pregnancy diet.
Similar to the nutritional requirements of pregnant and nursing dogs, senior dogs also have specific nutritional needs. Explore our blog where we discuss the nutritional needs of senior dogs.