10 Tips for Feeding Bitches During Pregnancy & Lactation
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10 Tips for Feeding Bitches During Pregnancy & Lactation

Dogs
Food & Nutrition

1. Diet should be considered BEFORE mating. A bitch from whom you are intending to breed should be at her ideal weight and neither too stout nor too slim.

2. It is usual to start increasing the food from week 6 of the pregnancy and at this point it is generally recommend that a higher energy density food be gradually introduced so that you do not have to give large volumes of a less calorific product in order to meet the bitch’s greater nutritionaldemands.

3. If your bitch is fed on a specialised commercial diet due to food allergies, dietary intolerance or a particularly sensitive digestion; then a change of diet may be something you are sensibly very wary of. It may well be that she can continue with her regular food. Check with both your vet and pet food manufacturer that the diet can support her during pregnancy and lactation, and be aware that portions will need to be higher than if you were using a growth diet or product specifically formulated for pregnancy. Higher portions are easy to accommodate by introducing an extra feed.

4. Assuming an average sized litter, the bitch will need a 10% increase to her usual calorie intake at week six, gradually rising to up to 60% extra by the time of whelping. Many experienced breeders work by hand and eye, and instinctively know how much more food a bitch will need through careful monitoring of her weight, bodily condition, faecal output, energy level and appetite. For the novice, it is safer to use calculations.

5. To calculate your bitch’s normal calorie intake, you will need to know how many calories per gram her food (and any additions to her diet such as treats) supplies. If using commercial food, the manufacturer will be able to tell you the value if the information is not shown on the packaging or their website. Simply multiply the calories by the amount you normally feed. Next you need to find out how many calories the diet you have chosen to feed your bitch during the pregnancy supplies and work out how much of an increase is needed each week to provide the extra energy she needs. The allowance needs to be taken up gradually, so at week 6, a small increase of 10-15% more than usual is generally fine. Over the coming weeks, work up to the suggested 60% increase. The figures should all be calculated from your initial daily intake, not from the new increased figure. Do bear aware that the size of the litter and the bitch’s individual metabolism will cause some variation, and thus some bitches may need more or less food than others. Monitoring faecal output is a very good way to establish whether her food intake is suitable, and if her stools are larger, more frequently passed or softer than normal; it may be an indication that you are offering her a little too much too soon.

6. Don’t add vitamins or minerals to an already complete and balanced diet. Upsetting the calcium to phosphorous ratio can increase the risk of eclampsia (a dangerous condition where blood calcium levels drop that can result in fever and convulsions).

7. Some bitches lose their appetite 2-3 days prior to whelping and will just pick at their food. This is not unusual at all, but it’s important to encourage a bitch to eat at regular times to help her to maintain stable blood sugar, good serotonin levels and sufficient energy. If she is tired, whelping will be more difficult for her. Insufficient food also leads to insufficient milk. During lactation, it is absolutely imperative to ensure your bitch is eating properly otherwise she will be more at risk of eclampsia.

8. After whelping, the bitch’s appetite will increase dramatically and she will appreciate being fed small frequent meals. Individual bitches do vary greatly in their requirements. Your eye will tell you if she is getting too fat or too thin, and you can regulate her intake accordingly. As a guide you may wish to increase her normal intake by 130 – 140% in the first week, rising to 180% in the second week and up to 250 – 300% by the third week. The size of the litter will affect the amount of food the bitch requires and this should be taken into account.

9. Different breeders have variable weaning timetables, however, if the litter is unusually large you may wish to start weaning slightly earlier than normal. Most breeders wean gradually over a period of two to three weeks, starting when the puppies are around 3 weeks of age; and during this time the bitch’s intake of food should be gradually reduced. This will mean that by the time the puppies are fully weaned, the bitch is back down to her normal daily amount (although she may need a little more food for longer if she has lost a significant amount of weight through feeding her puppies).

10. If using a milk product as a substitute for the dam’s milk or in addition to her milk (e.g. in the event of her having a large litter or as a stepping stone between mum’s milk and puppy food), so bear in mind that puppies soon lose the ability to digest lactose, which is why cows’ milk can cause diarrhoea. Goats’ milk is lower in lactose, but milk products formulated specially for puppies are preferable.

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