Diet during pregnancy…
The average duration of pregnancy in the she-dog is 63 days, but her energy requirements do not increase appreciably until the last third of gestation when most foetal weight gain occurs. It is important, therefore, to avoid overfeeding in early pregnancy, since this will lead to the deposition of unwanted fat and may predispose her to problems at whelping. A gradual increase in food allowance over the second half of gestation is all that is required and a satisfactory regimen would be to increase the amount of food by 15 percent of the dog’s maintenance ration each week from the fifth week onwards. At the time of whelping, she will be eating 60 percent more than when she was mated.
Because the additional requirements imposed by pregnancy are relatively small, they can usually be met by simply increasing the amount of her normal food, provided that is nutritionally complete and balanced. However, in late pregnancy and particularly if the litter is large, the space occupied by the gravid uterus may be so great that the physical capacity for food intake is limited and appetite is reduced. In this case, feeding a concentrated diet, such as one designed for puppy growth or active dogs, can help to ensure an adequate intake and offering smaller, more frequent meals can also be beneficial.
Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are sometimes given to she-dogs in late pregnancy and lactation as an ‘insurance policy’, however, these do not prevent eclampsia and may, in fact, increase the risk of eclampsia or calcinosis in her and produce developmental abnormalities in the puppies.
Diet during lactation…
Lactation represents the most nutritionally demanding life stage for the she-dog and at peak lactation (three to four weeks after whelping), she may need to eat anything up to four times normal maintenance allowance. Failure to the diet to meet these demands means that she will nurse her young at the expense of her own body reserves, with a resultant loss of weight and condition. If she is unable to produce enough milk or eat the amount of food she needs, then early supplementary feeding of the puppies may be necessary if both the mother and puppies are to thrive.
Consider a Labrador of 28 Kg with a litter of six 4-week-old puppies of 2.5 Kg each. At this stage each puppy will require an energy intake of about 500Kcal/day which is obtained from the mother’s milk. She therefore has to supply 3000 Kcal as milk each day. Her milk contains about 1300 Kcal/litre and so the amount of milk needed is at least 2.3 litres
There are obviously some losses of energy in the production of milk but if it is assumed that the process has an efficiency of 75 percent then in order to produce 3000 Kcal as milk, she must obtain 4000 Kcal from her food. In addition, to maintain her own body weight and condition, she will need her usual 1339 Kcal/day. Her total energy requirement is therefore 5339 Kcal or nearly four times her maintenance requirement. Obviously, it is strongly recommended to feed such an amount of food several small meals of a highly digestible diet, or alternatively, offer the food constantly over 24 hours. Ideally the food should be placed close to her bed, so that she does not have to leave her puppies in order to eat. This will also encourage the puppies to try their mother’s milk.
If the mother is unable to produce enough milk or to eat the amount of food she needs, then early supplementary feeding of puppies may be necessary if they are to do as well as they should. This is initially best done with a milk replacer which has nutritional profile close to the mother’s milk. From about four weeks of age onwards, the puppies can also be encouraged to eat small amounts of their mother’s food.
An unlimited supply of drinking water should also be provided to cater for the large volumes that may be involved in milk production.
Milk production is affected by protein (quantity and quality) in the diet and it is important that the extra food supplied is of good quality. It is not appropriate to simply increase the dietary energy content by adding fat or carbohydrate sources.