How to Feed a Nursing Dog – Diet, Macronutrients & Schedule

How to Feed a Nursing Dog

A healthy pregnancy followed by a fit litter is only a battle half-won. The real challenge begins now when the nursing dog needs enough energy to feed herself and then her pups.

At a time like this, as a pet parent, it is your duty to ensure that the bitch is well taken care of and has the necessary food and drink supplements by her side. Dogs tend to lose a lot of weight after giving birth and so first things first, make your pet gain the weight back.

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.

Bioavailable Food

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).

bioavailability of dog food

Nutrients such as proteins, fats, carbs, and vitamins get digested by dogs, but not all of each one will be used. Raw feeding and premium dog foods have better bioavailability than cheap foods.

Homemade Nursing Dog Food

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 Much to Feed a Nursing Dog?

Nursing dogs need twice the quantity of food that they regularly eat. Sometimes, even 2.5 or 3 times more food than usual.

New nursing mothers need a large quantity of food to keep their puppies fed. Some trainers and vets even suggest that a nursing dog should have a bowl full of kibble accessible at all times (i.e. free feeding). So ideally, you should let your dog eat as much as she wants. This is one time that you simply cannot put a limit to how much she eats – and don’t worry about overfeeding her.

However, what you must worry about is that while nursing dogs require large quantities of food, they have very little appetite. So getting them to eat more is a problem. An easy solution to this is to feed her food that is calorie dense.

For those who feed their dogs homemade, fresh food – the number one rule is to never leave any of it out. Contrary to the kibble, that can be left out all day long for the dog to keep eating, home cooked food needs to be given frequently and fresh. Ideally, a pregnant dog will eat 1/5th of her body weight every week.

What is the Best Feeding Schedule for Nursing Dogs?

As a general rule, a nursing dog eats as much as she wants, whenever she wants. However, breeders should consider breaking down her meals into smaller portions that are fed at frequent intervals. Instead of a large meal twice a day, feed her a small, nutrition dense meal every 2-3 hours.

This allows the mother to be full at all times without any chance of upsetting her stomach or getting too full at once. She needs to be active and a frequent feeding schedule will ensure that she is. Of course, this means added work for you, because not only will you be feeding her all the time, she will also need to go to the loo more often. It is the best of the mother’s and the puppies’ interests though.

Suggestions apart, if you don’t know how to make a schedule for your dog – let her decide for herself. Dogs are perfectly capable of making choices on when and how much to eat. So you can even leave it up to her.

How to Change a Nursing Dog’s Diet After She Gives Birth?

From eating calorie dense meals while nursing, the mother dog’s diet changes drastically when she is weaning her puppies. It is upon you to make this transition easy for her. After the weaning, lower the quantity of her regular meal by 1/4th. A few days later, reduce it to half of what she used to eat when she was lactating. Slowly, bring her to her regular portions over a period of 15 days.

A pregnant dog will start putting on weight after the sixth week and start losing it fast within days of the birth. If your dog has lost a lot of weight, adjust her diet accordingly.

If you’re switching from kibble to regular homemade food or vice versa, once the puppies have weaned, make that switch gradual. Don’t expect your dog to suddenly start eating dry food after feeding her meats. Slowly introduce smaller portions of the food to her meals and gradually keep increasing the quantities of it, while decreasing the quantity of her pregnancy food. At the end of 2-3 weeks, you will have switched her over to her regular diet.

Ensuring a healthy litter and a healthy mother is totally in your hands. So make sure you do it right!

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