Feeding dams and sires correctly is vital to producing healthy litters of pups. It is vital to feed a good-quality dog food that is complete and balanced. However food intake will vary according to age, activity, body metabolism, and environment. If possible, each dog should be fed as an individual to achieve and maintain normal body condition.
Healthy Dogs Produce Healthy Pups
The body condition of breeding dams and sires is also important. Overweight males may be physiologically and anatomically inefficient for mating while overweight females can have lower conception rates and more problems during whelping.
Regardless of breed, a bitch should be at least one year of age and must be in at least her second heat, before she is bred.
Feeding during pregnancy
Puppies do not grow consistently during pregnancy. Only 5% of their growth occurs during the first and second trimester of the 9-week pregnancy. The balance of their growth happens in the last three weeks. During this last trimester, the puppies' need for protein, minerals and other nutrients grows dramatically, and you therefore need to feed the mother accordingly. As the growing puppies' needs change, so do those of their mother.
During her first six weeks of pregnancy, a bitch will eat fairly normally, but during the last three weeks you should switch her diet to a good quality puppy food, since you are effectively feeding the puppies through their mother. The mother should be allowed to eat all the food she wants during this final trimester. However her food intake will also depend on how many pups she is carrying. If she has two pups to feed, she will require less food than if she has 10 pups to nurture. It is advisable to consult your vet who will recommend a feeding schedule based on the number of puppies due to be born.
If your bitch's body condition begins to deteriorate at all, take steps to increase her food intake. Try moistening dry food with warm water to improve palatability, or add small amounts of canned dog food to the dry food and feed her several times a day.
As whelping nears, the female will likely lose her appetite. This is normal and unless she appears to have a health problem, no change in her feeding program is necessary. Refusing food during the ninth week is an indication that whelping will occur within the next 24 to 48 hours.
Within 24 hours of giving birth a female's appetite will usually return.
The importance of water
During reproduction, water carries nutrients to the developing foetus and removes wastes for elimination. Water helps to regulate body temperature and is critical in milk production.
Keeping water bowls clean and changing water frequently will encourage water consumption. Fresh water in a clean bowl should always be available.
Feeding During lactation (nursing)
Once the puppies are born, continue feeding the mother high-protein puppy food as she will now need the additional nutrients for nursing. It will also make it easier to wean the puppies onto the correct food, since they will copy their mother while she is eating.
Milk production is one of the most nutritionally demanding stages in a female's life, so you must ensure she is eating enough. The demand for milk by nursing puppies will continue to increase for about 20 to 30 days.
At peak lactation (3-5 weeks), the female's food intake may be two to four times above her normal food intake, depending on the number of puppies she is nursing. Very attentive females will rarely leave their puppies and often need encouragement to eat and drink. To maintain good body condition and provide ample amounts of milk for the puppies, nursing bitches should be allowed all the food they want.
Try moistening dry dog food with water to help increase food intake during lactation. At about 3-4 weeks of age, the puppies will start nibbling solid food. As they begin to eat more puppy food, the demand on their mother for milk production will decrease.
The mother will also start weaning her pups between six and eight weeks, and will remove herself from them for longer periods of time. During this time, her milk will begin drying up. Remember that puppies can only be fully weaned when they are eating enough solid food, so keep increasing their food intake. By feeding the pups a good quality puppy food, will ensure they grow up to be healthy with a lower pre-disposition to illness. (For more information, see our article called Feeding your puppy correctly.)
By this time the mother's food consumption will be less than 50 percent above her normal maintenance level. Once the puppies are fully weaned, and the mother's appetite is back to pre-pregnancy, you may need to feed her additional food to restore her condition.
Puppies should not be removed from their mothers earlier than 8 weeks because important socialisation lessons occur between six and eight weeks. Some breeders will not allow their pups to go until they are 10 weeks old.
A note about sterilization
If you are not planning to breed, consider having your puppy sterilised, which should be done at about six months of age.
Sterilisation often stops male dogs from marking their territory inside the house, and it usually decreases aggressive behaviour.
Contrary to the myth, sterilised animals do not become fat as a result of the operation. However their decreased activity and metabolism can lead to weight gain, so it is important to watch their food intake. Monitor your dog's weight and food intake to ensure he or she does not become fat by overeating. Remember, that like people, dogs need to balance their energy intake with their energy expenditure. If they eat more than their bodies need, they will put up weight.