The typical gestation period of a pregnant dog is 63 days, on average. But even though the amount of time a dog is pregnant is relatively short, it’s important to monitor and support canine moms-to-be every step of the way!
And what’s one of the most important aspects of caring for a pregnant dog? Supporting their nutritional needs.
Below, we’ll cover why nutrition is so important, some do’s and don’ts, and strategies you can use to pick the best dog food for pregnant dogs.
The Importance of Nutrition For a Pregnant Dog
Similar to human pregnancies, nutrition plays a key role in supporting both the health of the pregnant dog and the growing puppies. Nutrition can support fetal development, maintain maternal health, help prepare for lactation, and aid in recovery after birth.
Supporting Fetal Development
Nutrients directly impact the growth and development of the pregnant dog’s puppies. Because dog pregnancies are on the shorter side, growth is rapid, which requires a lot of energy from the mother.
Higher energy requirements mean more food — but not just any food. Look for foods with dietary DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that supports brain and vision development in puppies, both in utero and while nursing.
Maintaining Maternal Health
As noted above, pregnancy requires a lot of energy, so increased nutrition is key to minimizing the risk of malnourishment. If the expecting mother doesn’t get the proper nutrition, their body will pull from its own reserves to support the fetuses, which can endanger their health. Signs of malnourishment may include poor coat health and general weakness.
Additionally, pregnant dogs should be slightly overweight to support reserves for the babies. But don’t go overboard with feeding, as obesity is also a concern. Weight gain should be gradual and increase most in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Consider feeding a pregnant pup more small, frequent meals instead of large ones, and ask a vet for guidance on specific feeding amounts.
Beyond providing the nutrients given to puppies through their mother after birth, a healthy mother will also develop a stronger bond with their puppies, promoting their wellness.
Preparing for Lactation
Another important nutritional aspect to consider is lactation. A pregnant dog will have heightened nutritional needs as they near delivery, preparing their body for milk production.
A balanced diet for a lactating dog contains at least 29% protein, 17% dietary fat, and less than 5% dietary fiber. For a more personalized approach, talk to your vet to confirm your dog’s specific dietary needs to support the demands of milk production.
Aiding Recovery After Birth
Even after pregnancy is over, good nutrition helps a dog recover faster. This is because after whelping (giving birth), the litter is 100% dependent on the mother. Therefore, the mother dog needs to be healthy to support the puppies’ needs and their own recovery.
Finally, a balanced diet throughout pregnancy can help prevent certain pregnancy-related complications. Specifically, a diet that offers the mother proper calcium levels can help prevent deficiency or excess.
Calcium deficiency may cause reproductive disorders, as well as stalled labor and delivery problems. On the flip side, excessive calcium during pregnancy can increase the risk of developing eclampsia. It’s important to consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pregnant dog is developing any symptoms of eclampsia.
What To Include in a Pregnant Dog’s Diet
Now that we’ve explored why proper nutrition is vital for a pregnant dog, let’s dive into the foods to include in a pregnant dog’s diet.
As noted above, protein should be a large portion of a pregnant dog’s diet, as it provides energy and nutrients to the dog and the unborn puppies. Lean, high-quality meats also contribute to muscle and tissue development in the mother dog and their litter.
Healthy fats support hormonal balance in pregnant dogs and fetal brain development due to the omega fatty acids present. Look for ingredients like chicken fat or chicken liver, flaxseed oil, and fish oil for the most nutrient-dense fats.
Carbs are another piece of the nutritional puzzle supporting energy levels in pregnant dogs. Look for complex carbs like brown rice, rolled oats, sweet potatoes, and quinoa. These carbs take longer to digest and will help your dog sustain energy over time.
Essential Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals round out a healthy diet for pregnant dogs. Some of the most important vitamins and minerals include folic acid, iodine, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K.
What To Avoid in the Diet If Your Dog Is Pregnant
In addition to knowing what’s good for pregnant dogs, it’s just as important to know what to avoid in a pregnant dog’s diet. Some foods may be safe for dogs when they are not pregnant but can cause complications during pregnancy, so it’s best to ask a vet if you’re unsure.
Dogs shouldn’t eat raw food during pregnancy, especially avian (bird) meat or raw beef. Raw meat from birds can carry the avian flu, but in general, raw meat can cause illness or introduce a bacteria your dog isn’t used to. A good rule of thumb is to skip raw meat during pregnancy.
Some medications aren’t safe for pregnant dogs. Similar to humans, it’s best to limit medications as much as possible unless they are specifically approved by your vet. Some common medications to avoid include:
- Tetracyclines (like doxycycline)
- Some antibiotics, including sulfonamides, gentamicin, amikacin, nitrofurantoin, and streptomycin
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications should also be avoided as much as possible, including rimadyl, medicam, and deramaxx/deracoxib
Fish that is high in mercury is unsafe for pregnant dogs because it can impact the nervous system of unborn puppies. The most common high-mercury types of fish in commercial dog foods include tuna, mackerel, salmon, and trout. Though your pup may love fish, it’s best to avoid it during pregnancy.
What To Do If Your Pregnant Dog Refuses To Eat
As a pet parent, it can be stressful if your pregnant dog refuses to eat. There are many reasons why a pregnant dog may refuse food, such as discomfort, nausea, hormonal changes, and more.
Some tips you can try to help your dog eat when pregnant include:
- Feeding them small, frequent meals
- Feeding them puppy food or fresh food, which may be more palatable
- Offering a special treat you know they find irresistible
- Adding chicken broth, extra fat, or bone broth to their dry food to improve taste and texture
If the tips above don’t encourage regular eating, check in with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying concerns.
Dietary Changes and Considerations Throughout Pregnancy To Know
A dog's dietary needs evolve through the various stages of pregnancy, so it’s important to keep tabs on what stage they’re in and what specific needs they have. Keep reading to learn more.
Early Stages of Pregnancy
The early stages of pregnancy require a balanced diet, not needing any significant changes from the dog’s pre-pregnancy diet. Like humans, some dogs can experience morning sickness and will vomit early in their pregnancy. They may also have appetite changes, slightly enlarged nipples, clear vaginal discharge, increased fatigue, and become more affectionate.
During the middle of your dog’s pregnancy — also known as the second trimester — your dog will likely start to look pregnant and gain a bit of weight. During this stage, it’s important to emphasize balanced nutrition while slightly increasing calories.
Your dog’s nipples will begin to darken and increase in size in this stage of pregnancy as well. The closer your pup gets to delivering their litter, the larger their breasts will get, and milky fluid may begin to leak out.
Final Stages of Pregnancy
The final stages of pregnancy are when your dog will gain the most weight, and their caloric demands will increase significantly. You may want to feed your pregnant dog puppy food during this last trimester, as it is highly palatable, absorbable, and nutritious.
Aim for 29% protein and 17% fat due to its energy density. You should also include a high amount of soluble carbohydrates to support energy. Hypoglycemia is a concern during the third trimester, which can transfer to the fetuses, and this ratio will help reduce the risk.
Additionally, milk production requires a tremendous amount of energy and is vital for the litter's health. So some pet parents free feed during the last trimester and initial weeks of lactation, allowing the mother to eat as much as they want, whenever they want.
Other Considerations for Your Pregnant Dog’s Diet
There are a few other aspects of your pregnant dog’s diet that you should consider, including:
A feeding schedule of regular small meals will support your dog’s health throughout pregnancy, as well as leave room for increasing as they get into the second and third trimesters.
You can transition to puppy food in the last two or three weeks of the first trimester and increase calories slightly during the second trimester. Then, in the final weeks of the third trimester, increase their total food by 15–25% or allow them to free feed.
In addition to a feeding schedule, monitor and adjust portion sizes based on your pregnant dog’s changing needs. But remember, simply increasing existing food isn’t appropriate for the entirety of a dog’s pregnancy. Switching to a puppy food or a food specifically for pregnant dogs is a better option.
Water and Hydration
Hydration is key at any stage of life, but it’s especially important for pregnant dogs, who are experiencing a lot of changes. Even if your dog isn’t eating as much as usual during the first trimester, make sure they have constant fresh water available to stay hydrated.
Sometimes, supplements can be helpful during a dog’s pregnancy, but check with your vet before beginning. You shouldn’t supplement with vitamin D, phosphorus, or calcium, as too much could lead to the calcification of the soft tissue structures of the fetus.
Remember that calcium intake should land between 1-1.8%, and phosphorus should be no higher than 1.6% in your pregnant dog’s diet to avoid dangering the fetuses. Most balanced dog foods designed for pregnant dogs or puppies will include proper amounts of vitamin D and the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, but check with your vet if you are unsure about your specific food.
Transitioning to a Lactation Diet After Pregnancy
A nursing dog requires the greatest amount of calories of any life stage. Three to five weeks after giving birth, a dog may require two to four times the energy calories of a healthy adult dog. Keep this in mind when transitioning your dog’s feeding schedule and portions as they move into lactation.
How The Honest Kitchen Can Support Your Pregnant Pet’s Health
Now, after considering all of the information above, you may wonder where to start when looking for dog food for your pregnant dog. We recommend dog food that offers high-quality, human grade ingredients that support pregnant dogs’ health — like The Honest Kitchen.
Whole Grain Clusters for Puppies
The Honest Kitchen’s Whole Grain Chicken Clusters for Puppies is a great kibble alternative option for your pregnant dog. This recipe will give your dog more calories than adult dog food and contains 25% protein. Plus, tasty ingredients like whole chicken, oats, barley, carrots, pumpkin, and apples may help stimulate your pregnant dog’s appetite.
Grain Free Clusters for Puppies
If your pregnant dog has a sensitive stomach or grain allergy, try The Honest Kitchen’s Grain Free Chicken Clusters for Puppies. Similar to the whole grain recipe, this recipe has high protein, healthy fats, and low fiber.
Superfood Pour Over Supplements
If your pregnant pup seems uninterested in anything you put in front of them, we recommend The Honest Kitchen’s Superfood Pour-Overs.
These slow-cooked toppers provide plenty of nutritional value from spinach, kale, broccoli, and turmeric — all in a yummy bone broth. There are also three recipes to choose from: lamb and beef, turkey, and chicken.
Bone Broth Pour Over Supplements
For the pickiest moms-to-be, The Honest Kitchen’s Bone Broth Pour-Overs are an irresistible option that packs a punch of healthy fats. This supplement may be especially helpful for the last few days of pregnancy but use it sparingly since it adds calcium. Try this broth in chicken or beef.
Choose The Honest Kitchen To Help Your Pregnant Dog Thrive
Nutrition is always important to ensure a well-rounded life, but as a dog moves through pregnancy, it becomes a vital aspect that impacts both them and their soon-to-be litter.
We covered a lot of information in this article, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, The Honest Kitchen can help. Our high-quality, human-grade dog food options support holistic health for both mom and puppies.
Explore the entire dog food collection from The Honest Kitchen, including dehydrated dog food, wet food, treats, and supplements.
*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.