Pregnant and lactating or nursing dogs have specific and varied nutritional needs. The different stages of reproduction (heat/oestrous, pregnancy, lactation and weaning) apply different stresses to a dog’s body. Special consideration and care need to be taken when feeding them to ensure that both the pregnant dog and its puppies are given the best chances at good health. Optimal nutrition is important for:

  1. Conception or a successful pregnancy
  2. Optimizing the number of puppies per litter [1]
  3. Giving the mother (bitch) the means to retain her pregnancy and deliver her puppies
  4. Allowing the mother to produce consistent nutritious milk for her puppies

Getting Your Dog Ready for Breeding

Both the male and female dog should be of breeding age. Not all dog breeds reach maturity at the same time and adult size can play a large role in this. Some Toy breeds reach maturity within 9 months of age, with Large and Giant breeds taking 21 months to two years to reach adult body weight and maturity. It is important to make note of your dog’s breed and age of maturity.


Most dog breeders suggest that female dogs should not be bred on their first oestrous cycle or heat. Skipping this first cycle allows the dog to further develop, grow and be better prepared for pregnancy on the next oestrus cycle. Sexually mature female dogs go through heat twice a year, (normally every 6 months) or less commonly, once a year [2]. The gestation period for a pregnant dog is typically 63 days or 9 weeks.


Feeding healthy nutritious food one month before the female is due to have its heat will get its body ready for breeding. The female should be of a healthy weight. Obesity can reduce fertility, increase the time between heat and reduce litter size [2]. Obesity can also reduce milk production which would have a negative impact on the litter health and growth [2].


Although there are not any specific nutritional requirements for a female dog during its heat cycle, providing it with some healthier choices can help prepare it for pregnancy. Using a Premium dog food will help in providing your dog with better quality proteins and nutrients that will aid your dog in getting ready for pregnancy. Introducing more omega 3 fatty acids in the diet is also helpful for increasing fertility. Cod liver and Salmon oil or Salmon and lamb are excellent source of omega 3’s. Daily exercise can also help your dog to prepare for the stresses of becoming pregnant, especially since she would have limited mobility in the last trimester of her pregnancy. It is advised that you see your vet before breeding your dog to confirm fitness for breeding/mating. It is important to record the breeding date so that you can estimate your dog’s expected whelping time.

Feeding the Pregnant Dog

Week 3-5
Feed should be increased at week 3. Instead of the usual 2-3% of food per her ideal body weight, she should now be fed 3-5% of her ideal body weight per day. It is suggested that 10% of this new diet should be organ meat. Higher fat diets are also encouraged at this stage. Lamb is a great source to assist in this regard. The fats contained in this meat will help to strengthen the amniotic sacks that the puppies/embryos are growing in and, also make essential stores for milk and colostrum for when the litter is born [3]. Vitamin E is also important, which comes from the fats and oils in the meats. Salmon and cod liver oil are excellent source of vitamin E.


Week 6 onwards
From 6 weeks, the dog should be fed 6 -10% of its normal ideal body weight. Since the size of the diet has increased, they can be split into 3 to 4 meals per day. This will ensure that she is digesting and absorbing as much nutrients as possible throughout the day and transferring them to her puppies [4]. The calcium content of the diet will be reduced by including salmon, beef, or lamb. Lower calcium levels at this stage may help to reduce the occurrence of pre and post eclampsia. Eclampsia involves the drop in calcium levels that occurs in nursing mothers. The cause of eclampsia varies and can range from excess calcium supplementation during pregnancy to receiving too little during pregnancy. Your dog should be fed this amount of food until it whelps. It should be noted that there are different views as to how much a pregnant dog should be fed during this period. Observing the body condition of your body is important.

Lactation and Weaning

After whelping, your dog’s appetite will increase considerably, and she should be fed small amounts frequently. This is too aid in her milk production. The amount of food she needs will depend on her litter size. It is important to observe her to note if she is getting too fat or too thin, and then regulate her allowance as need be. A daily food increase guideline of 130-140% in week one, to 180% in week two and up to 250-300% by week three is suggested [4]. Puppies can be gradually weaned from 3 weeks onwards. The food allocation to your dog should be gradually reduced until she is back to her normal daily amount (she may need a bit more if she hasn’t reverted back to her ideal weight) [4]. Puppies should be allowed access to puppy food during the weaning process.

Providing your dogs with the proper nutrition before, during and after pregnancy will increase the chances of having a healthy litter. The information above giving is just a guideline. Making your own notes and observations while using these guidelines during your dog’s pregnancy will help you understand your own dog and to be better prepared for the next one.


[1] E. Ward, “Pancreatitis in Dogs,” 2009. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 01 February 2019].

[2] B. Richard, “Exocrine Secretions of the Pancreas,” Colorado State University, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 January 2019].

[3] S. Bill, “Acute Pancreatitis in Dogs,” Pet Health Network, May 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 01 February 2019].

[4] A. K. Club, “Pancreatitis in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment,” American Kennel Club, 17 December 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 06 February 2019].


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