How many times a day should a nursing dog eat? Here’s What to Expect

My dog is pregnant and is getting ready to deliver her puppies. I have heard that nursing her puppies will be even more energy-intense than pregnancy. Is this true?

It is correct that during nursing (lactation), a dog needs the greatest amount of energy calories of any life stage. Optimal nutrition for a dog having puppies is essential to support:

  • Conception and a successful pregnancy
  • Optimizing the number of puppies per litter
  • Providing the bitch with her best ability to deliver her puppies
  • Thriving puppies both before and after birth
  • The various stages of reproduction – heat (estrus), pregnancy, lactation (nursing), and weaning – provide unique stresses to the body. Each has specific nutritional concerns that should be addressed to maximize both mother and puppy health.

    Dogs are pregnant for 63 days, plus or minus two days. The pregnancy is divided into trimesters, and a healthy, well-fed dog will gain about 15 to 20% beyond her weight at breeding.

    Overfeeding can result in obesity at the end of pregnancy, increasing the risk for difficult or prolonged labor and extra stresses on the puppies. Meal feeding is the best way to control body condition and weight gain during pregnancy. A high-quality puppy formulation designed for high digestibility is generally recommended during the third trimester, and multiple small meals may be the best way to make sure the mother can eat enough calories and nutrients.

    The mother’s energy requirements increase after delivery and during lactation. At her highest energy need, three to five weeks after whelping (giving birth), she may require 2-4 times the energy calories of a normal healthy adult. The mother’s energy requirement will decrease and return to normal by about eight weeks post-delivery, around the time the puppies are completely weaned. Once the puppies are born, the mother can increase her food intake, but the energy density of the food must be high enough or she will not be physically able to consume enough to sustain milk production, weight, and body condition. Periodic assessments of her body condition provide opportunities to fine-tune feedings. Just like the third trimester of pregnancy, feeding during lactation is best accomplished using a highly digestible, high-quality puppy formulation.

    Free-choice feeding during the first three to four weeks of lactation, unless she only has one or two puppies, provides many advantages. The mother can eat on her own schedule, she can consume smaller amounts of food each time she eats, and the puppies can begin sampling solid food as soon as they are able (at about three weeks of age).

    Having puppies is both exciting and exhausting for you and your pet. Whilst it’s wonderful to welcome adorable bundles of fur into your home, it’s hard work for a new mum to grow, deliver and look after a mischievous litter!

    Therefore it’s more important than ever for you to make sure your dog is getting everything they needs from their food. Eating right will make sure that both mum and her puppies are happy and healthy. Although adult-formula food is great for everyday use, your dog will need an extra boost of nutrients when pregnant, especially if theyre expecting a large litter.

    Mums-to-be can get the higher amount of energy and protein that dogs need from a high quality puppy food. Feeding your pregnant dog a puppy formula will help to support your pet during and after pregnancy.

    Your dog’s body condition (and any other medical requirements) can affect what nutritional demands your pet will have when expecting. You can find out more about your dog’s body condition with our body conditioning tool.

    What Should I Feed a Nursing Dog?

    The best and most healthy source of fat and calories for nursing dogs is homemade puppy food. However, commercial dry food for pregnant dogs contains a decent calorific amount of healthy fats and proteins to meet the nutritional needs of growing puppies. Make sure to add a bunch of greens to her food to aid digestion.

    Most importantly, the food you feed a nursing dog bioavailable dog food. This means that the nutrients in the food should be easily absorbed by the dog’s system; otherwise, there is no point! Poorly absorbed nutrients will get excreted through feces and urine and your dog will still remain undernourished (while your garden will flourish).

    If you don’t want to feed commercial dog food, a few homemade alternatives would include meaty bones, oxtail, chicken or even rabbit. Healthy meats of cows, pork and game birds are also recommended, but in lesser quantity. Lastly, feed small amounts of organ meats, leafy vegetables, whole grain, and eggs.

    A few things to keep in mind while feeding a nursing dog:

  • Food should be high in calories and fat
  • It should have nutrients that are easily absorbed by the dog’s digestive system.
  • The digestibility should be high
  • It should be high on vitamins, minerals, calcium, and protein
  • It can be fortified with vet-approved supplements
  • Add fish oils to keep her fatty acids balanced
  • She should be supplied with enough fresh, drinking water to generate milk.
  • Check with your vet before giving her milk or any other product that you have not fed her before – most dogs are lactose intolerant
  • Don’t worry about overfeeding your nursing dog. During this time, she needs enough energy, calories and fat to be able to produce milk to feed her pups while keeping herself fit. Let her eat as much as she wants to.

    How Many Times a Day Should DOGS EAT? – Puppies and Adults