How to Feed a Pregnant or Nursing Dog a Natural Diet (Raw Dog Food)
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 a puppy food?
A pregnant dog cannot gain enough energy from the 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. The 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.
A sample diet for a pregnant or nursing dog:
About 65-75% raw meaty bones, like chicken wings, ox tail, 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 the 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.
But don´t commercial puppy foods have enough protein to meet a pregnant dog´s needs? It says so right on the label.
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.
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.
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