Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.
Food Requirements for Pregnant and Nursing Dogs
Feeding a pregnant or nursing dog does not need to be difficult. This article will give you a few guidelines to follow, but remember that dogs have been doing this on their own for a long time. Even if we were not in the picture, dogs would scrounge around for the right food, get pregnant, carry puppies to term, and nurse them.
When coming up with a diet for a pregnant or nursing dog, you should think about the following food requirements:
- Easily digestible
- Good quality protein
- Available energy
- Full of enough vitamins and minerals
All of these requirements can be met by feeding a natural dog food. Even if you choose to believe the commercials advertising the puppy foods sold by commercial manufacturers, you should realize that those diets are not natural. They are not easily digestible, do not have the quality of protein she needs, have poorly available energy sources, and will be lacking the vitamins and minerals needed by a pregnant and nursing dog.
It is up to you to allow her to do what nature intended; your pregnant or nursing dog wants you to decide wisely.
Why Are Commercial Foods So Hard to Digest?
The commercial foods you purchase, even when they are mostly meat, contain a lot of grains. (Rice is another grain. A food composed of rice is just as hard to digest as one made up of corn.) Canned foods can be higher in meat, but dry foods require quite a lot just to make a pellet. All of the grains are composed of vegetable matter, of course, and every single cell in a vegetable is surrounded by cellulose.
Cows and other herbivores do fine when eating only cellulose. They have a stomach filled with bacteria that allow the cellulose to be broken down. You already realize that your dog cannot survive on grass, and if you are feeding her a commercial diet high in cellulose she needs to eat a lot of it just to meet her needs. If she has extra needs, like those of a pregnant or nursing bitch, she will need to eat a lot more. Her stomach can only fit in so much feed per day, and this is asking too much from her.
Some breeders will try to get around this by recommending multiple small feedings throughout the day. A veterinarian I used to work for summed this up with his vulgar, farmyard language many years ago: “It's like shoving ten pounds of s*** in a five-pound sack.”
Can My Pregnant Dog Get Enough Energy Out of Puppy Food?
A pregnant dog cannot gain enough energy from puppy food because it is composed of grains, and the energy is in a form that is not available to dogs. It will be bound by cellulose, just like the protein that she really needs at this time.
They may get obese, unfortunately, but this is not because of an excess of good available calories. Puppy foods may contain sucrose or other cheap sugars to make them more palatable. A pregnant dog does not need to gain more than about ¼ of her body weight, but when she eats a lot of commercial food in search of nutrients excessive weight gain is a consequence.
What About Vitamins and Minerals?
Dog food manufacturers are required to add calcium and other vitamins to make them “complete.” That does not mean that a dog is able to digest what is in the food, and that does not mean that some minerals will be bound with others during digestion.
Most veterinarians recognize that these diets are inadequate and recommend supplemental calcium tablets be given during pregnancy. If the owner of the pregnant dog chooses not to, milk production may be inadequate and the veterinarian will sell milk replacer instead.
Easily digestible bones, like chicken wings and legs, will provide your pregnant dog with all of the calcium she needs during her trying times. You do not need to give her tablets to balance her calcium and phosphorus intake. All of her mineral needs will also be taken care of.
Your pregnant dog should receive an antioxidant source once a week. Many dog food companies will not even consider adding Vitamin C since dogs already produce some in their own body, and some of the other vitamins are extremely low.
Don't Commercial Puppy Foods Have Enough Protein to Meet a Pregnant Dog's Needs?
Sure the diet may contain an adequate percentage of protein. Not all protein is equal, however. Do you think that 100 grams of eggs is equal to 100 grams of even a high-quality vegetable protein source? They never are. If the diet contains even 5 or 10% of its high protein level in a protein that is hard to digest, the dog food companies can still sell the diet as “high protein.” It is high protein, for a cow.
Your pregnant or nursing dog will end up decorating your yard with plenty of “cow patties," too.
Is a commercial diet going to cause your puppies to die? No, not at all. Many pregnant dogs have to survive on a commercial ration. If you have a small litter size, weak puppies, and excessive puppy mortality, however, you might suspect what is causing it.
A sample diet for a pregnant or nursing dog:
- About 65-75% raw meaty bones, like chicken wings, oxtail, or rabbit.
- About 15-20% alternative meat sources, like cows cheeks, pig´s intestine, whatever game is available, and the occasional raw fish (whole).
- About 5% organ meat, especially liver for vitamins and antioxidants.
- About 5% fresh leafy vegetables (like kale and pumpkin), blended to a liquid and supplemented with 1 tsp brewer’s yeast (Vitamins B), 1 tbsp vegetable oil (vitamin E), a raw egg yolk (extra vitamins, antioxidants, and protein), and 1 tbsp yogurt (probiotics). If your dog is not already on a natural diet, and if she is not interested in the vegetable mixture, you can add the liver, which will give it a strong smell that dogs love.
Figure that your dog will be eating about 1/5 of her body weight per week, but some pregnant dogs can be fed free-choice and will not gain excessive weight. The only way to monitor this is to weigh her every week for a couple of months when she is pregnant.
If you want to give her something else, like a small amount of table scraps, do not worry that you are going to be “upsetting her diet." Your dog does not need a PhD in animal nutrition to eat naturally.
Once a dog gives birth, go ahead and continue the natural diet that she is used to. She will probably start eating a lot more during early lactation and will convert almost all of the food into milk for her pups.
When the puppies are about a month old, her milk production will decrease and you can start feeding her less. You will still need more food, though, since the puppies will start eating solid food about this time.
Enjoy this time, and make sure you are feeding your pregnant and nursing dog correctly.
- What Seven Foods Are Really Toxic For Dogs
It is safe for your dog to eat fat and raw eggs, despite what you have heard. Find out what is really proven to be toxic.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Should the liver that I feed to my pregnant or nursing dog be raw?
Answer: The only time I use cooked liver is when I am cutting it up into small pieces for a training aid.
When giving liver, kidneys, and other internal organs as part of a natural diet, they should be raw.
Question: Can nursing dogs eat eggs?
Answer: All raw foods can be given to nursing dogs.
Question: Is the raw diet fed to female Rottweilers any different?
Answer: All dogs, no matter what the breed, can be fed a natural diet.
Question: How do you make sure raw bones do not harm your dog during digestion?
Answer: Raw bones do not harm your dog during digestion.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 23, 2020:
Kiran--Pugs are dogs like any other. Those companies that make special dog foods for pugs (or any other breed) are just in it for the money.
Kiran kumar on June 17, 2020:
Please tell me nursing pug dog food list.
tammy on June 09, 2019:
Goat milk seemed to help but only feed when nursing.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 01, 2018:
Beverly, there is no evidence of this. If this vet would like to provide some specific sources, and prove me wrong, I would be glad to look at the articles. I doubt they exist.
Your own sucess with your Leonbergers proves the point.
Beverly Travis on June 01, 2018:
I have been feeding raw for almost 20 years and have had 36 litters of Leonberger puppies over the years. The repro vet I am using now is insisting that raw feeding causes reabsorption of puppies and I should not be feeding them raw. Is there any evidence of this?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 27, 2017:
Daniel, is she already on a natural diet or are you switching? My dogs that already eat raw go right on with their normal food.
Daniel on December 22, 2017:
My doggy gave birth to puppies... can i give her meat aftr two days ?
MzLauraFox on September 28, 2017:
I feel bad no one answered you Jay! I have 2 week old puppies and am having some smaller similar issues. My Momma dog eats at every chance, but canned food gives her terrible liquid poop! I have been giving her cooked grass fed beef. I need to know what else to add. Does anyone know out there?
Jay on August 23, 2017:
my dog gave birth to her first litter of 5 healthy pups on Aug 18, and since then, feeding he has become hell. She refused her normal dog food, so I went with raw. She would gobble up liver and plain brown rice no problem one day, then the next, nothing. She'd gobble up can dog food, then the next, nothing. Then I tried boiled egg, her favorite, and the same thing occurred. I tried chicken wings and plain brown rice a few minutes ago, another favorite, and she only would eat it if I boiled it and stripped off the meat and ate from my hand. when I put the bowl down for her, she just whined incessantly at it and nosed the food, but ate none. I'm running out of options here. In the past 5 days we've gone through puppy food, canned dog food, liver, chicken breast, chicken wings and eggs. All of which she only nibbled at (with the exception of the liver, but I can't keep feeding her that alone now can I?) Please is this normal? She is drinking plenty of water, and otherwise healthy with has a lot of energy, the pups are round, healthy and active when they are not asleep, and show no problems with her milk. She also gave birth to all 5 with no difficulty. But I am really worried as she barely eats.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 09, 2016:
Ness, raw chicken bones do not splinter.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 09, 2016:
Ness, raw chicken bones do not splinter.
Ness on October 08, 2016:
I thought chicken bones splinter in dog stomachs
Bob Bamberg on December 13, 2013:
Your history knowledge is most impressive. Yes, Big Joe, as we called him back on the block, uttered those words to Lewis and Clark when they were busting his chops, saying how easy he has it being Chief and all.
I take back the comment about someone sleeping a day in your hammock. It was a careless comment, thoughtlessly written without regard to your image or reputation, which certainly would be sullied should you give up your hammock for a day. Inertia Rules!!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 12, 2013:
"Walk a mile in my flip flops"...wasn´t that first said by Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce Indians? I can't imagine asking anyone to sleep a day in my hammock!
Bob Bamberg on December 12, 2013:
The world eagerly awaits that hub...of course, the world knows and admires the non-work you put into earning that advanced degree...so the world isn't expecting anything overnight. The world knows that we'll see it when you get around to it.
The world recognizes that you have much too much on your plate that needs procrastination first. It's hard to be true to your advanced degree when the world is demanding you do something, but the world hasn't walked a mile in your flip flops or slept a day in your hammock.
I just hope that, by the time you finish the hub, I'll still be on this side of the grass so I can implement some of your methods. Procrastinate tomorrow!!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 11, 2013:
Still too expensive, in my opinion,but then again I am into ultimate frugal (it was developed following the rules of ultimate frisbee).
Oh, one more thing. That first line should have read "If I was lazier," since I already have an advanced degree in lazy, and am working on a new hub "How not to interrupt your nap and hold your hammock in place even when the world is demanding you do something".
Bob Bamberg on December 11, 2013:
A 5 lb. bag here is around $18, a 15 lb. bag is around $32, and a 30 lb. bag is around $54 at the big box pet supply stores...a few bucks less at independent and feed and grain stores. And, I'll have the steak dinner, please...medium rare.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 10, 2013:
If I was really lazy, was willing to feed grains like rice and oatmeal, and did not care about my dog´s physical or psychological health (yes, eating natural really does matter—would your rather have a steak dinner or a bowl of cold porridge?) I might be willing to feed her Merrick, one of the “better” foods on your list. A small bag is about $40. Some of the others on your list are a lot more.
I realize US beef production is going down and there are a lot more beef cattle here in Brazil, but are prices really that high?
Bob Bamberg on December 10, 2013:
I agree with you about the brands you mentioned...none of which I consider to be quality foods. It amuses me that vets push the Science Diet and Purina products so heavily, but we all know why. Even a large number of pet owners see through this now.
This has created somewhat of a dilemma here because an increasing number of owners have a decreasing amount of faith in their vets' food recommendation and don't know where to turn for reliable information.
So they do their own "research" which usually results in an information overload, with much of the information they gather in conflict with perceived norms or other information they had considered reliable.
Here, the grain-free diets aren't priced like filet mignon...more like chuck steak on the day of its "sell by" date. If you look at ingredient panels from grain-free Earthborn, Wellness, Merrick, Nature's Variety, Solid Gold, and others of that genre, you'll see they're quite different from the "so 1980s" lower quality brands you mentioned.
My healthy skepticism is sometimes balanced by healthy respect, and, absent dissent from animal nutritionists, I accept USDA's definition of complete and balanced. It seems to be working over here.
I've noticed you've been a little complacent lately, and thought it was about time to get you back on your toes again. Nice rebound.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 09, 2013:
Are Hills Prescription Diets, Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, and ProPlan grocery brands? I thought they were sold by veterinarians, who know that a food with cornmeal, rice, sorghum, and barley are not what a dog needs. (I just read this on a Eukanuba bag.) Complete and balanced, at least according to the government, right? I thought you had a little more healthy skepticism? Why not in this area?
Pregnant dogs in your area, and fed this kind of food, deliver litters every day, but are they optimal?
As far as the grain free diets that I have seen advertised, they are not only not providing the best food (because of vitamins being destroyed in cooking) but they are also ridiculously overpriced. A dog could be fed filet mignon for those prices, although, as you know, that would not be ideal. Dogs need fresh food, not just processed foods their whole lives.
So, we disagree, right? Not the first time, I am sure, nor the last! Thanks for taking the time to leave this great comment, and giving me an excuse to find a Eukanuba ingredients list from the US. I appreciate you keeping me on my toes!!!
Bob Bamberg on December 09, 2013:
Interesting hub, Doc, but I have to disagree with some of what you say, which probably shocks you. Not all commercial dog food is loaded with grains, as you describe. And, in this neck of the woods anyway, pregnant dogs on commercial diets deliver successful litters every day.
The grocery brands are as you describe and I wouldn't feed them, either. But, the high quality, holistic, grain free diets on the market today are not as you describe.
More than protein, the emphasis with puppy food is on the extra calcium that formulation contains. Recommendations here are that, to help prevent osteoporosis, the mom be put on a high quality puppy food from conception to weaning. Some vets recommend beginning the puppy food a month prior to parturition and continue through weaning.
Here the emphasis is placed on the concept of complete and balanced, and if an owner chooses to feed a home prepared diet, they're encouraged to follow one recommended by a board certified veterinary nutritionist.
We'll never agree on the quality nutrition that commercial foods have to offer...although I do agree with you regarding the grocery brands...but it's always an interesting discussion. Voted up, useful and interesting.