Appropriate nutrition is very important for a fertile bitch or stud dog, and essential for healthy foetal development.
Different dogs thrive on different ingredients. Some fare best on a chicken-based feed, whilst others are better with a lamb or fish based feed. Dogs with any known food allergy or intolerance require special care; as do breeds with an inherited predisposition to nutritionally responsive medical conditions ~ e.g. the Dalmatian (urate crystals) and Irish Setter (gluten responsive enteropathy). Ingredients are clearly an important consideration, but the nutrient balance (the way in which the protein, fat and carbohydrates are balanced) and energy density (calorie content) are key too.
Choosing a Suitable Diet for a Brood Bitch or Stud Dog
A gradual transition to a more appropriate diet can be a godsend if the current food is not proving optimal; and before mating is the ideal time to review the dog’s general health and demeanour and make changes to the diet if required.
- Is the diet enjoyed? Insufficient food intake is a particular risk to a bitch because she may be lacking in the essential nutrients required to support fertility and healthy foetal growth and she may not have sufficient fuel to support her higher demand for energy.
- Is the diet well digested? Loose stools mean that the body will not be getting the full benefit of the nutrients in the diet and this can result in loss of weight and condition, as well as dietary deficiencies.
- Is the energy density appropriate? High energy dogs and those with a small appetite generally fare better on a more concentrated feed, and those with a lower activity level or larger appetite require a less calorific feed. Maintenance of a healthy body weight is imperative because an overweight bitch is at a much higher risk of dystocia (a difficult whelping) and an overweight stud dog may be lacking in virility.
- Are the skin and coat in excellent condition? A scurfy coat and poor skin could be indicative of a dietary allergy. The immune system needs to be in tip top form for reproduction and not hindered in any way by having to deal with dietary proteins that are aggravating it.
- Is the diet nutritionally balanced and does it contain the correct level of nutrients important for healthy reproduction? Look for bioavailable ingredients; i.e. ones which are easily utilised. Making life as easy as possible for the digestion means that the immune system can focus on its vital role in the protection of the body. Looking after the digestive and immune systems has a hugely positive effect on the other cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body ~ and this is of great importance for optimal fertility and vitality of both the sire and dam; and a healthy pregnancy, whelping and litter.
Good Food Check List
- Complete and balanced – this applies whether you are feeding commercial dry food or a raw diet.
- Good quality protein with excellent digestibility – in commercial food, look for a decent level of protein from meat (named sources rather than derivatives of animal origin), fish and egg. A combination of protein sources provides an excellent amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and have both structural and functional roles including the production of enzymes and hormones. There are a lot of hormones involved in reproduction!
- A quality fat source in commercial food is important too – named ingredients such as chicken fat, lamb fat and salmon oil are generally better quality than blended fats. Fat from animal sources are more bioavailable to canines than those from vegetable sources.
- The B vitamin family is very important; with vitamin B (thiamine) deficiency possibly contributing to fading puppy syndrome and reduced sexual development, vitamin B6 deficiency having a possible link to cleft palate and folic acid deficiency potentially being linked to congenital defects. The B vitamins compete for absorption within the small intestine so it is crucial that a fertility / early pregnancy diet includes whole spectrum in bioavailable forms at good levels.
- Other important vitamins for fertility and pregnancy are vitamin C (which has antioxidant properties and helps promote milk production)and vitamin E (which also is a powerful natural antioxidant). Lack of vitamin E may cause testicular degeneration.
- Minerals are critical to the dog’s diet, with zinc and magnesium playing especially critical roles in the stud dog and breeding bitch. Zinc deficiency may be responsible for a low sperm count, and in bitches may cause miscarriage or congenital defects. Zinc plays an important role in the synthesis of genetic material (DNA and RNA). Magnesium deficiency may impede foetal growth and can also result in premature whelping.
Unless a deficiency is diagnosed, vitamin and mineral supplementation should not be necessary if feeding a good quality complete diet. During later pregnancy (usually from week 6) when the bitch’s requirements increase, her greater needs will be met by larger feed portions and usually a change to a more energy dense product such as puppy food.
E. Moser’s 1992 study “Feeding to Optimize Canine Reproductive Efficiency” concluded that: Nutrient deficiencies, excesses, and imbalances all are capable of altering reproductive performance. Healthy adult dogs should be fed a diet high in digestibility, low in residue, and high in nutrient bioavailability.
Special Nutrients / Natural Healthcare Supplements
Although vitamin and mineral supplementation is not recommended unless a deficiency has been diagnosed by your vet, there are some nutritional supplements that may be of particular benefit to stud dogs and breeding bitches. These include:
- Plant extracts with antioxidant properties (to help combat the harmful effects of free radicals). There is a greater risk of free radical damage during times of stress, and both mating and pregnancy do place the body under more duress. Many commercial complete dog foods include ingredients such as cranberry or decaffeinated green tea extract for this purpose.
- Prebiotics which act as a good food source for the friendly gut flora and are also very supportive to the immune system as well as the digestive system since over 60% of the dog’s immune cells live in the gut. Commercial complete dog food now often contains prebiotic FOS, prebiotic MOS, or both.
- Probiotics which are a dose of good gut bacteria. Non-dairy sources designed specifically for dogs are preferable.
- Essential fatty acids; the omega-3 fatty acids are important for healthy foetal brain and nerve development as well as beneficial in many aspects of the dam’s health.
Please be aware that a good diet is not a guarantee of fertility, a healthy pregnancy and whelping and litter. Mistimed mating, genetics and a wide variety of other external factors may all contribute to the difference between success and failure.