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Diet: considerations for the "Mum to be"

Updated: Nov 20, 2023


Dietary considerations for the bitch

A successful pregnancy depends on the dietary history as the bitch draws on nutritional reserves laid down previously; an inclination to feed her extra food to meet any deficiencies is likely to lead to obesity and difficulties with the birthing process and should therefore be avoided. It’s also important to not underfeed her as this too can impair puppy development, her calorie needs remain fairly steady during the first 6 weeks following mating so if she’s a healthy weight following mating her calorie intake should remain at the same level.

Changing her diet following mating can stress her and harm the developing puppies particularly during weeks 3-5 when their organs are developing, any changes therefore should be minor, aimed at addressing any pre-existing nutrient deficiencies or excesses without introducing foreign foods which may put her off her food. For example, if she’s receiving calcium supplements, cod liver oil or other Vitamin A supplements these should be stopped immediately as these can damage the developing puppies. Useful supplements which should already be a part of her normal healthy diet such as kelp, vitamins C, E and B-complex should all continue to be fed throughout her pregnancy as her nutritional needs continue unchanged, only increasing in the final few weeks of the pregnancy.

The puppies do most of their growing during weeks 6-9 of the pregnancy and mum’s calorie needs increase accordingly. It is at this time that her diet should be tailored towards growth with a greater concentration of nutrient rich foods such as eggs, organ and muscle meats replacing some of the meaty bones she’s been receiving which now become around just 25% of the diet. The supplements such as flax seed oil, kelp, Vitamins C, E and B-complex can all be increased, and a small amount of cod liver oil can safely be added to further increase the nutrient density of the diet during this final phase of the pregnancy. It’s useful to split meals at this point, as the food intake increases and the space taken up by the puppies also increases feeding smaller meals more often, say 3-4 times daily, is more palatable for mum with her daily intake now steadily increasing by around 5-10% per week. The fruit and vegetable component can also be reduced to around a third of that previously fed with a focus placed on increasing complex carbohydrates such as soaked rolled oats, cooked brown rice or crushed root vegetables.

By week 9 of her pregnancy the attention is placed on her whelping needs as the puppies are completing their final development phase. It’s recommended to slowly reduce her food intake at this point so that when it comes time for the birth, she’s receiving just ¼ the food volume of the week prior. Ideally the composition of the diet is adjusted to be more laxative with an increase in vegetables and flaxseed oil but all the other dietary components reducing to give the required reduction in volume. At this time, she will begin drawing on the nutrient reserves that have been carefully stored leading up to this point.

Following the birth of the pups her dietary needs remain focused on growth until the pups are weaned, as such it’s essential she receive all the nutrients required to meet her own healing needs as well as producing enough milk to satisfy the pups growing needs. She may not have much of an appetite for a few days after the birth, understandably given the huge task undertaken but it’s important to maintain her hydration, nutrient and energy levels for the task at hand. A good alternative to food in this initial phase is a fortified milk drink outlined by Dr Billinghurst in his book as: 250ml milk, 1 tsp honey, 1-2tsp flax seed oil, 1 egg and 1-2 junket tablets all combined in a blender and left to stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.

As her appetite returns, she should return to a nutrient rich growth diet, packed with high quality protein, fat, minerals and vitamins she needs for both her and the pups to thrive with no unnecessary ‘fillers’ to dilute it. The fortified milk mix can be used to continue to support her throughout the lactation phase. Ideally this diet would be primarily raw digestible meaty bones such as chicken wings or necks; these can be minced to aid palatability if needed. Just as for pregnancy, a crushed fruit and vegetable mix can provide valuable nutrients as well as being a useful mixture to add supplements to. By the time the pups are a week old, and with her appetite restored she’d be eating approximately 1.5 times her regular amount, at two weeks old she’d be eating twice as much and by 3 weeks she’d be eating triple the regular amount. Due to the volume of food required ad lib feeding is highly recommended although it should be mixed in a way that she eats the appropriate selection of nutrients rather than picking and choosing her items of preference.

When it comes time to wean the pups, at around week 7, mum’s food intake can be reduced and the additional nutrients that were added to support lactation can be reduced. Milk supply is directly dependent on an adequate intake of nutrients, cutting down on food triggers a reduction in milk supply, therefore the greater the milk supply present, the greater the reduction in food needs to be, feeding as little as ¼ her usual diet for 48 hours if her milk supply is plentiful. It’s also useful to restrict access to water though hydration is important so swapping ad-lib access for periodic access every few hours is recommended. Swapping edible meaty bones for large recreational bones can be a useful strategy for reducing food intake without stressing her. With lactation coming to a conclusion mum’s dietary needs involve replenishing all of the nutrients which pregnancy, birth and lactation have taken, returning to a regular raw meaty bone-based diet is recommended.

Dr Ian Billinghurst, Author

If you’re looking for an easy, well-informed read on nutrition one author worth checking out is Dr Ian Billinghurst with chapters devoted to breeding specific nutrition, the above article is based on this textGrow your pups with bones.

The above is provided to inform only, animal breeding involves many complex issues and with an abundance of abandoned animals already available, adoption is recommended.


Billinghurst, I., 1998. Grow your pups with bones. Bathurst, New South Wales: Warrigal Publishing.

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