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Your Dog’s Healthy Pregnancy: Expert Nutritional Tips and Advice for Pregnant Dogs

Alison Frost, our resident Canine Nutritionist, discusses feeding pregnant dogs. In this expert article, she shares vital information about dog pregnancy from a nutritional standpoint, as well as how to keep mum and pups healthy after birth.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Your Dog’s Healthy Pregnancy: Expert Nutritional Tips and Advice for Pregnant Dogs

Before breeding a dog, ensuring the mother is healthy and has undergone breed-specific vet health checks is essential. Pregnant dogs require special support, both to keep mum healthy and ensure her puppies grow healthy and strong. Whilst there are many schools of thought on how to accomplish this, I lean towards nutrition as the backbone of a healthy pregnant dog

With dog pregnancies being only nine weeks in length, each day they are well nourished contributes towards a healthy mum and pups.

Adequate and balanced amounts of essential nutrients are required for all canine health, but this is especially true when it comes to ensuring a pregnant dog and her unborn puppies remain healthy. I’ll discuss how this can be done with natural, species-appropriate nutrition in this article.

Hormone fluctuations and mood changes

Impact of hormonal changes on mood

Fluctuating hormones can make pregnant dogs behave differently in a few ways, and each mum-to-be will handle this uniquely [1]. Whilst some pregnant dogs will want more attention and affection from you during their pregnancy, others might become irritable, especially around strangers or loud noises. All mother dogs develop the instinct to protect their puppies at some point, which may be partly responsible for this change in behaviour, though hormones play a major role.

Other changes during dog pregnancy include nesting behaviours, such as pawing/scratching at the floor or hiding food in a safe place, as well becoming more picky about their meals and feeling less active than usual. Some pregnant dogs lose their appetite due to nausea, though this should be mentioned to your vet as it can also be a sign of pregnancy complications, especially when pregnant dogs are more withdrawn than normal.  

Recognising and managing mood swings

You’ll likely know when your pregnant dog is behaving abnormally, as you’re the one who spends the most time with her. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential for mood and behavioural changes during your dog’s pregnancy so you’re prepared when they do happen. Recognising mood swings and providing your pregnant dog with what she needs will make all the difference to her health and happiness during her pregnancy.

Some ways to offer support might include:

  • Giving irritable pregnant dogs a quiet space to relax away from loud noises or strangers
  • Providing additional affection/comfort to pregnant dogs who seek out more attention than usual
  • Providing the appropriate nutritional support during dog pregnancy (I’ll discuss this in detail later)
  • Setting up comfortable beds and nesting areas around the home 
  • Adapting pregnant dogs’ diets to appease their changing appetites

Essentially, the aim is to make your dog’s pregnancy as calm, comfortable, and stress-free as possible for her. Along with providing the correct nutritional support, this can make all the difference to the health and happiness of both mum and pups.

Adapting food and feeding routines

Adjusting/adapting to individual needs

As I’ve just mentioned, pregnant dogs’ appetites often shift due to their various hormonal and bodily changes during pregnancy, which may require some dietary adaptations. However, your pregnant dog’s nutritional needs will also change to accommodate the growing pups in her belly, as well as her own overall wellbeing. Even the healthiest dog pregnancies cause additional stress on mum’s body, so supporting her through adequate nutrition is essential for keeping her healthy.

Pregnant dogs generally eat the same amount of food in their diet in the early stages of pregnancy, but this increases as the pregnancy progresses (see below for more details). However, with the full duration of pregnancy being around 9 weeks, they will eventually require about one and a half times more food than they would normally eat, to allow their nutritional needs to be met while also providing adequate nutrition for their puppies. 

This might need to be broken up into more frequent, smaller meals, especially when pregnant dogs are experiencing nausea or during the last stage of pregnancy, when their tummies are full of puppies and also may be experiencing constipation.

Dog pregnancy also increases protein, fat, and certain mineral requirements in mum’s daily diet. This will vary between dogs depending on size, pre-pregnancy feeding routines, and other factors.

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Factors that influence dietary adjustments

There are various factors of dog pregnancy that influence the need for dietary adjustments. Aside from nausea and increased protein/fat/mineral needs, there are various reasons for adapting the diets of  pregnant dogs. These include:

  • Appetite changes due to hormonal fluctuations and cravings
  • Growing pups taking up space, creating need for smaller/more frequent meals
  • Varying nutrient requirements per each passing trimester (discussed in a later section)
  • Food intake requirements based on litter size
  • Potential mineral/vitamin deficiencies in some pregnant dogs

As you can see, each dog’s pregnancy will be unique, as will any contributing factors leading to necessary dietary adjustments. When considering what to feed a pregnant dog, species-appropriate, raw meals are especially helpful in this regard; they ensure mum is receiving adequate nutritional support whilst contributing towards the health of her puppies as well. 

Note: Do not drastically change a pregnant dog’s diet after the 4 week pregnancy mark; this is not the time to be changing and experimenting with food!

Benefits of a natural, raw food diet

Advantages/benefits of raw feeding for pregnant dogs

As pregnant dogs require special attention to their nutrient intake during this time, their diet is particularly important [2]. I recommend feeding a fresh, whole food diet to all canines, but this becomes even more crucial during your dog’s pregnancy. Raw, species-appropriate food is the best way to ensure mums-to-be are well nourished, as the essential nutrients required for their health and the health of their puppies are naturally present. 

Additionally, these ingredients are bioavailable, meaning they are easily absorbed and assimilated within the body without the need for extra effort on the digestive system’s part. As pregnant dogs’ bodies are already doing lots of extra work ensuring the growth and development of their puppies, any way you can make life easier for them is ideal. Feeding them foods that their bodies are naturally designed to digest allows them to receive their required nutrients more easily, instead of causing additional stress on the digestive system with processed, unnatural ingredients.

Impact on health and nutrition

The impact that quality raw dog food has on dogs’ health is far-reaching. This is due to the influence that digestive health has on the rest of the body, as well as the effects that essential nutrients have on various bodily systems/functions. When considering what to feed a pregnant dog, it’s even more important to provide their natural diet, as this will lend towards a healthier pregnancy overall.

In a nutshell, healthy mums have healthier babies, and that starts with what pregnant dogs are eating!

Also, it’s important to remember that dog pregnancy has a direct affect on gut health: growing puppies in her belly means that mum’s digestion will be impacted in various ways, such as needing smaller, more frequent meals so that she can gain all the nutrients she needs to fuel her growing puppies. Providing the most natural diet possible will allow her to receive these nutrients, even whilst she’s experiencing changes that naturally accompany the various pregnancy stages.

Puppies tend to grow and develop healthily when their mum has adequate nutrient support. Not only that, but the taxing effect of a dog’s pregnancy will be less severe when the appropriate nutritional support is provided. With healthy ingredients in the right portions, pregnant dogs’ bodies are far more equipped to handle the physical stress of pregnancy, whelping, lactation, and the weaning process.  

To discover more about raw dog food check out our in-depth guides, Benefits of Raw Food and Switching Your Dog To Raw

Supportive natural ingredients and supplements

Natural ingredients and supplements for pregnant dogs’ health

As I mentioned earlier, pregnant dogs’ nutrient requirements change to adapt their bodies for a healthy pregnancy. Protein, fat, and certain minerals need to be increased in order to maintain mum’s health as well as contribute towards the healthy development of her puppies [3]. Each dog’s pregnancy will be different, as all dogs are unique. However, certain nutrients are critical for puppy development and dog pregnancy in general. They include:

  • Calcium — Aids in foetal skeletal development and milk production
  • Iron — Keeps mum’s red blood cells healthy during pregnancy
  • Copper — Essential for bone, hair, and skin growth
  • Zinc — Sythesises protein, promotes collagen formation, contributes to mental development, and promotes reproductive organ health
  • Vitamin A — An essential nutrient for foetal development
  • Vitamin D — Contributes to bone growth in puppies and balancing other minerals in the blood

These nutrients are naturally found in a species-appropriate, natural diet. However, additional support may be needed depending on each individual dog’s pregnancy, her pre-pregnancy health, and various other factors. Consult our canine nutritionist team for free tailored advice, or contact a holistic veterinarian for nutritional support.

Overall wellbeing support

Feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet will take care of pregnant dogs’ overall wellbeing for the most part. However, I also recommend the use of additional nutrient support to ensure mum gets everything she needs for her own health during pregnancy. 

I generally recommend ProDog’s Colostrum and bone broths for pregnant dogs. These promote gut health, balanced immunity, joint and skin health, whilst providing vitamins, minerals, protein and electrolytes. Colostrum is also helpful for establishing strong immunity and balanced gut health in puppies once the weaning stage is complete.

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Nutritional guidance for each stage of pregnancy

0-4 Weeks 

To begin with, I recommend feeding a balanced adult complete raw dog food diet throughout your dog’s pregnancy. During the early stages, pregnant dogs can eat as normal, with the guideline amount being between 2-3 % of ideal body weight.  However, it’s important to avoid overfeeding: overweight dogs tend to struggle more during the labouring process. 

Meanwhile, it’s also important to recognise that feeding quantity recommendations are a guide and all dogs will differ slightly in their requirements. Breed, level of activity, stress levels etc can all play a part. If you are sensing she is still hungry, it is perfectly OK to up the quantities.

The new surge of pregnancy hormones may cause them to become constipated, so increasing their fibre intake is a good idea. Gently cooked green vegetables such as green beans, kale, broccoli and others can help keep them regular. Bone broth is a helpful option here, too: it provides key nutrients and electrolytes which are more easily assimilated, and can aid in reducing constipation due to the added moisture content in her diet. 

4-8 Weeks

Pregnant dogs can potentially start to experience nausea during this stage, though it’s also time to begin increasing their food intake. Serving a smaller meal in the morning can help to minimise nausea later in the day, which allows mum to continue receiving the appropriate amount of food she needs. Utilising bone broth can aid in reducing nausea, as well as providing easily-assimilated nutrients when pregnant dogs are less hungry.

Around week 5, begin increasing food quantity by 5-10% each week. Your holistic vet or canine nutritionist can advise you on how much your pregnant dog should be eating based on weight, litter size, and other factors. ProDog’s canine nutritionist team can also help with any queries on this matter. 

Starting around week 6, I recommend serving smaller, more frequent meals while reducing bone content to around 5%. Adding a high-quality Omega 3 oil, such as green lipped mussel or wild fish oil, provides essential fatty acids for both mum’s health and puppies’ development. Boneless meats, eggs, fish and offal (organ meats) are especially helpful around this time as well, and help to dilute the bone content. 

It’s also crucial to provide adequate hydration in the form of fresh water and/or bone broths, as she’ll be more thirsty than normal. Be mindful of this, however, as she’ll also need to urinate more often!

8-9 Weeks

During this stage of your dog’s pregnancy it becomes increasingly important to serve smaller, more frequent meals, while removing all bone content. Her growing pups are now leaving little space for food in her belly, meaning she can’t eat too much at any one time, though she still needs regular nourishment.

Allow her appetite to guide you during this time: it’s normal for pregnant dogs to voluntarily eat less towards the end of their pregnancy, whilst some even stop eating altogether. Offering bone broth will keep her hydrated and provide key nutrients, even in the absence of food.

This late stage is also the time when pregnant dogs are known to become extremely picky about what they will and won’t eat. Have a menu of options on hand for her raw meals, and be patient; she’s not being fussy to annoy you! If she still wants to eat, allow her to have foods that she finds appealing and can tolerate. Just don’t be surprised if she wants something else tomorrow!

For further in-depth information on nutrition during dog pregnancy, I highly recommend reading Grow Your Pups with Bones by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, as well as Book of the Bitch by J.M Evans and Kay White.

Nutritional guidance after birth

Importance of postpartum nutrition

Once your pregnant dog becomes a proud mum, her nutritional needs make somewhat of a shift. She still requires the essential canine nutrients found in a species-appropriate raw diet, but now her body needs additional support to recover. Her pregnancy has taken a toll on her even if she’s in optimal health, and the right nutrition will go a long way towards helping her heal. 

Providing new mums with targeted nutrient support such as ProDog’s Revive is an excellent way to ensure their bodies heal and recover promptly. It’s packed with recovery-boosting nutrients such as antioxidants, essential amino acids, vitamins and fatty acids that aid in muscle recovery, immune function, natural detoxification, while keeping energy levels balanced for minding those busy new pups! 

Dietary considerations for lactation and recovery

This is the time to increase calcium. Providing access to raw bones and increasing bone content in mum’s food will ensure her milk reserves don’t dry up, and she doesn’t experience eclampsia. As well as calcium, high levels of natural, animal-based protein is essential for the production of milk. Eggs, extra meat, and oily fish can be especially helpful.

The lactation period creates the hardest strain on a mum, so lots of nutrient dense food is important to keep her well fuelled, so she doesn’t lose weight or condition. Here, mum can be fed ALL that she wants/ needs; especially if she has a large litter to feed.  ProDog’s Boost and Revive are great supplements here as well: they provide targeted nutrient support in addition to mum’s healthy diet.

The holistic approach to pregnancy

Benefits of a holistic approach to canine pregnancy

I highly recommend utilising a holistic health care approach for the duration of your dog’s pregnancy. Holistic veterinarians are skilled in various fields of health, including nutrition, herbal therapy, relaxation techniques, and others. Their whole animal approach means that not only will your pregnant dog get the care she needs to grow her puppies healthy and strong, but that she’ll come out of her pregnancy as healthy as possible.

Aside from this, holistic health professionals aim to care for pregnant dogs and their unborn puppies in the most natural way possible, minimising their exposure to potentially harmful treatments and medications. This allows puppies to develop the way nature intended them to: being carefully monitored and nourished, but without heavy interference from external sources. 

Holistic practices for stress reduction and overall health

Because holistic vets utilise a non-invasive approach for the most part, pregnant dogs and their puppies are able to avoid undue stress and anxiety. This contributes to a healthy pregnancy and healthy pups, as stress can be responsible for a wide variety of health consequences such as imbalanced hormone levels, digestive upset, and many others.

Stress-reduction techniques are also more likely to be practised by holistic professionals, and can include anything from massage to acupuncture, herbal remedies to diet adjustments. A happy pregnant dog is far more likely to whelp happy, healthy pups, and remain healthy herself throughout the pregnancy and whelping process.

Dog pregnancy: Natural care for new mums and their puppies

Your dog’s pregnancy should be an exciting time, for both you and the mum-to-be. Using the guidance I’ve outlined in this article, your pregnant dog can remain healthy and happy, throughout her pregnancy and beyond.

Healthy, species-appropriate foods, supplemental nutrient support, and lots of love and affection from you can make all the difference in your dog’s pregnancy. Providing your new mum with all the essentials for her health and happiness ensures she remains her healthy self, whilst giving her puppies a head start to long, healthy lives.

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Dog pregnancy FAQs

What foods are good for pregnant dogs?

Raw, meat-based meals that contain balanced portions of essential canine nutrients are best for pregnant dogs. This ensures mum’s nutritional needs are met, allowing her to remain healthy and pass on the necessary nutrients to her growing puppies. To discover more, read the ‘Benefits of a natural raw food diet’ section in the above article.

What should you avoid if your dog is pregnant?

I advise against over feeding pregnant dogs, especially during the first half of their pregnancy. This can cause them to gain too much weight, making the birthing process more difficult and potentially dangerous. I also recommend avoiding calcium supplements during your dog’s pregnancy; they’ll get what they need from their balanced raw diet.

What is the best meat for pregnant dogs?

A wide variety of meats, offal, protein and fish are advised to provide as much nutritional diversity as possible. Including eggs and oily fish is recommended to provide the appropriate amount of essential fatty acids. 

What should a pregnant dog take?

Health-promoting nutritional supplements such as ProDog’s Colostrum and bone broths are great for pregnant dogs.

Should I feed my pregnant dog puppy food?

No. Feeding a well-balanced raw adult food is perfectly adequate; you don’t need to feed puppy food. We just advise adding some extra nutrient-dense proteins, offal, and healthy oils towards the latter stage of pregnancy to dilute the bone content.

What to feed a pregnant dog that won’t eat?

Many pregnant dogs become nauseous or otherwise picky about their food. Try various options of ProDog’s raw meals to find something your pregnant dog likes. However, if she continues to refuse food and is acting more withdrawn than usual, contact your vet.

References

  1.  Forkun, V., Bobrytska, O. Jun 2023. Individual features of the prenatal stress manifestation in bull terrier female dogs. Theoretical and Applied Veterinary Medicine;, 11(2). Doi: 10.32819/2023.11007
  2. Fontaine, E. Dec 2012. Food Intake and Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation, and Weaning in the Dam and Offspring. Reproduction in Domestic Animals;. 47(6):326-220. Doi: 10.1111/rda.12102
  3. Orlandi, R., Vallesi, E., Calabro, S., Vastolo, A., Musco, N., Troisi, A., Polisca, A., Lombardi, P., Cutrignelli, M. Dec 2020. Effects of Two Commercial Diets on Several Reproductive Parameters in Bitches: Note One —  From Estrous Cycle to Parturition. Animals;, 11(1):23. Doi: 10.3390/ani11010023

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