What’s the best food for pregnant dogs? She’s just mated a few times and now has a mammoth task ahead of her. Building up a litter of puppies in just 9 short weeks takes high quality nutrition – most of it in the last 3 weeks.
Best Food for Pregnant Dogs Weeks 1 to 3
All dogs deserve a quality diet, regardless of their role in life. Keep her on the usual excellent nutrition you provide for all your dogs, until the fourth week of pregnancy. From then on you’ll start upping her diet. So what does the “usual excellent nutrition” for dogs look like?
Well here’s what (in my opinion) it’s not. I’m not a great fan of only feeding commercial dog foods, especially the dry biscuit formulations and here’s why:
- Often contain artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. These are not ideal for good health and may even affect the development of the puppies during pregnancy. Food dyes alone have been shown in humans to damage the chromosomes of unborn babies, and are also linked with behavioral problems and reduced IQ (brain damage). Other potentially dangerous additives include MSG, and artificial sweeteners.
- Often contain low quality fats either baked in (cheaper brands) or sprayed on after baking (more expensive brands) which is apt to go rancid quickly, especially in warm conditions.
- The meat based ingredients can be of dubious quality. They may contain road kill, floor waste or even euthanized animals.
- Even the most pricey ones are often high carbohydrate – around 50% and up to 74%. Dogs actually don’t need carbs at all. So why are they in there? Starchy ingredients like rice, corn, wheat or potatoes are used as cheap fillers by pet food manufacturers to minimize their costs. Along those lines the cheapest available are likely to be GMO. GMOs can harm your dogs’ liver, kidney and immune system, and are linked to poor fetal growth. The cheap carbs might also contain dangerous toxic molds from poor storage. Mold toxins have been shown to disrupt fetal development.
- A lifetime spent eating dry dog food is dehydrating to your dog’s body, putting chronic strain on the kidneys.
My Take on the Best Food for Dogs
So what’s the answer? I reckon the best food for pregnant dogs (all dogs really) is “biologically appropriate”. I’ve been feeding my breeding dogs such a diet for 27 years. It’s based on 50% raw meaty bones and 50% home cooked food. So far (touch wood) they have enjoyed perfect health, with 100% success at birthing normally and excellent fertility. Worried about the bones? Remember that the gut of dogs has evolved over millions of years to handle RAW bones without any problems when given with the generous amounts of meat attached. More info on this diet here.
- Raw meaty bones are naturally high in calcium. That’s great normally, particularly during lactation, but they should be taken out of the diet in the last 3 weeks of pregnancy to avoid milk tetany/hypocalcemia during lactation.
- I prefer to cook veges for my dogs rather than feed them raw. The veges naturally sourced by wild dogs from the guts of their prey are fermented, not raw. Light cooking simulates this by breaking down some of the anti-nutrients.
That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes use commercial dog foods (yes, even biscuits). I see them as “background” foods I can reach for when I’ve run out of the good stuff, haven’t had time to cook for them, or forgot to defrost. So maybe once a week they’ll get commercial – bit like us going to Burger King on Saturday night but eating healthy the rest of the week.
Avoid Exposure to Toxins in the First Trimester
Feeding a pregnant dog right is one thing. In this early period the puppy embryos are developing and very susceptible to birth defects. So also avoid exposure to chemicals, medications and vaccines. That includes weed killers, household cleaners, kennel disinfectants and similar agents. If in doubt, just don’t!
Best Food for Pregnant Dogs Weeks 4 to 6
This marks start of the major growth period for the puppies inside her. Puppy building needs protein. So now is the time to start supplementing her food with very high quality sources of it. My favorite is boiled eggs (especially the yolks). But you could also use cottage cheese.
Week 4: Giving her a boiled egg or 1/4 cup of cottage cheese/10kg her body weight alternate days.
Week 5: As for week 4 plus add a snack meal of her usual tucker each day.
Week 6: Give the boiled egg/cottage cheese every day, plus increase the size of the snack meal.
Best Food for Pregnant Dogs Weeks 7 to 9
Now is the time to keep the amount of calcium in her diet to minimum. So stop feeding her the raw meaty bones just for these few weeks. Keep following the guidelines for the past few weeks, but add another meal to her daily diet.
Boost Brain Development
This last trimester is when the puppies’ brains are doing most of their developing. So I would also be supplementing her with a high quality fish or krill oil fortified with vitamin D, or cod liver oil (which naturally contains vitamin D). Vitamin D given to moms has been shown to optimize development of the brain in fetal and suckling puppies. It basically makes the puppies smarter! Weigh your dog and follow manufacturer’s dose recommendations – do not overdose!
In week 8 you could also treat her with a wormer that’s safe for pregnant bitches. This will help curb the natural infection of puppies in the womb by roundworm and hookworm released from her tissues in droves at this time. Follow up by worming her and her puppies when they are 2, 4 and 8 weeks of age.
Getting Ready for Whelping
She should now be sleeping in her whelping bed (in your loungeroom I hope, and not some kennel down the back paddock).
In week 8 start charting her body temperature (with a thermometer inserted a little way into her bottom). In the last 24 hours before whelping begins her temperature will normally drop. This will give you some warning and avoid unnecessarily sleepless nights.
What to Feed a Lactating Dog
The best food for pregnant dogs is also ideal for after she whelps. During lactation feed her as much quality food as she can eat. You may have to be creative as she will likely be off her food a bit at first. Lots of delicacies and tidbits straight out of your hand several times a day might be necessary. Growing puppies take a lot of calories and nutrients!
And up the calcium: lots of raw meaty bones. You could also add crushed egg shells to her food or give a calcium supplement. This will grow nice strong skeletons in her pups and help her avoid hypocalcemia/milk tetany (which is life threatening!).