A dog sniffing her newborn puppies in a basket outside

How (and What) to Feed a Nursing Dog

Did you know that a mother dog's nutritional needs can increase by anywhere from 25–600% while nursing her puppies? But it’s not just about increasing her calories — you need to provide the right mix of nutrients to support your nursing dog’s health and the growth of her litter.

A nursing pup needs to consume anywhere from 1.5–6 times more calories than usual to meet their puppies' demands, depending on the size of their litter. But the quality of food they eat is equally important, as a poor diet can affect the mother dog's health and impact the development and well-being of the pups.

But what exactly should you feed a nursing dog? And how much? Read on to find out.

Why Does a Nursing Dog Need a Special Diet?

Nursing puppies rely solely on their mother's milk for the first few weeks of life. And since the mom’s diet affects the quality of her milk, what she eats is incredibly important in the puppies’ early stages of development. A balanced diet packed with high-quality protein, fats, and essential vitamins and minerals is vital.

A nursing dog also needs more calories and higher protein levels to support her energy requirements and ensure proper puppy growth and development. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to health issues in the mother dog and puppies.

Some common health issues that can arise from a poor diet in nursing dogs include:

  • Malnutrition

  • Low birth weight

  • Poor immune system function

How Often Should a Nursing Dog Eat?

You’ll need to feed your nursing dog frequently to meet her caloric and energy needs. Some veterinarians and breeders advocate for free choice feeding, especially during the last trimester and the initial weeks of lactation.

This just means that you let the nursing dog eat whenever she feels hungry, usually by leaving a bowl of food available at all times. If you can’t free feed, you can try giving her four to six small meals throughout the day, which can also help prevent gastrointestinal discomfort from the increased food intake.

But don’t forget to monitor your nursing dog's weight to keep her portion sizes ideal. If she starts to lose weight or shows signs of malnutrition, you should increase her calories and consult your veterinarian.

On the other hand, if she starts packing on the pounds, you’ll need to reduce her portion sizes to keep her at a healthy weight. Your veterinarian can help you determine your dog’s ideal weight and come up with a feeding plan to get and keep her there.

Essential Nutrition for Lactating Dogs

All dogs need a complete and balanced diet, but it’s especially important for nursing dogs whose puppies depend on them for nutrition. Here's a rundown of the essential nutrients your nursing dog needs:

High-Quality Protein

Protein helps nursing dogs maintain their muscle mass and keep up with milk production. High-quality protein helps repair and build muscle tissues stressed during lactation, keeping the mom strong and healthy. It’s also a vital component of the milk they produce, and the puppies need it for proper growth and development.

So your nursing dog’s food should contain plenty of whole lean meats, such as turkey, chicken, or fish. Avoid meat byproducts, such as chicken meal, as they’re not as nutritious as high-quality whole meats.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats keep nursing dogs’ energy levels up and support milk production and overall health. They also help with brain development and cognitive function in puppies. Essential fatty acids, like omega-3 and omega-6, keep your dog’s skin healthy and coat shiny.

Good sources of fat for nursing dogs include:

  • Fish oil

  • Flaxseed

  • Bone broth (in moderation due to its high calcium content)

  • Chicken broth

  • Peanut butter (in moderation)

These foods provide healthy fats and can make the food more enticing to nursing dogs who may be reluctant to eat as much as they need to.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals

Your nursing dog also needs the right vitamins and minerals, in the correct amounts, to support both her and her puppies’ health, including: 

  •  Vitamin A:  Supports eye health and vision

  •  Vitamin D: Aids in calcium absorption for proper bone development in puppies

  •  Vitamin E:  Promotes immune function and can help prevent infections

  •  B-complex vitamins:  Essential for energy production and nerve function

Minerals like calcium and phosphorus are also important for mom and pups, as they support milk production and help maintain strong bones. 

Good sources of these vitamins and minerals include:

  • Lean meats (fish, chicken, turkey)

  • Eggs

  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale

  • Carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes

  • Whole grains

Proper Hydration

Mother dogs need a lot of water for milk production, so make sure fresh water is always readily available to keep your dog well-hydrated. Moisture-rich foods, such as wet food or broth, are also excellent water sources for lactating dogs.

To monitor your pup’s hydration levels, check her skin’s elasticity by gently pinching the loose skin on the back of her neck. How well does it spring back into place when you release it? Quickly or slowly?

If the skin doesn't spring back quickly when gently pulled, it’s a good indication that she may be dehydrated, and a visit to the vet may be in order.

Factors To Consider When Feeding Your Nursing Dog

Your furry friend’s nutritional needs may change during lactation, but the specifics can vary depending on your dog’s:

Breed and Size

Different breeds have unique metabolic rates, activity levels, and predispositions to certain health conditions — all of which influence their nutritional needs.

  •  Small breeds (e.g., Chihuahua, dachshund): Small dog breeds often have faster metabolisms and need more frequent meals rich in protein and healthy fats. They often benefit from energy-dense foods to fuel their high activity levels, like The Honest Kitchen’s Whole Grain Dog Food Clusters for Small Breeds, designed to meet small dogs’ needs.

  •  Medium breeds (e.g., beagle, cocker spaniel): Medium-sized dogs generally require a balanced diet that supports their active lifestyle but keeps them at a healthy weight. Look for foods rich in protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals, and monitor their weight closely to prevent over- or underfeeding.

  •  Large breeds (e.g., Labrador retriever, German shepherd): Larger breeds have a higher risk of joint issues and a slower metabolism. So they benefit from protein-rich diets for muscle maintenance and plenty of minerals for joint support. But be careful with portion sizes — feeding too many calories can lead to skeletal disorders in large-breed puppies.

From small bites to big appetites, The Honest Kitchen offers a variety of high-quality, human grade dog food options tailored to specific breeds and sizes. With food from The Honest Kitchen, you can be confident that your dog is getting the right nutrition to support both her and her growing puppies.

Health Conditions

You’ll also need to take into account any health conditions that your dog has, such as allergies or a sensitive stomach. Dogs with food sensitivities may need a limited-ingredient dog food that is free from common allergens like wheat, soy, and artificial flavors and preservatives.

Dogs with digestive issues also benefit from diets that are easy to digest and rich in simple, whole-food ingredients. Prebiotics and probiotics can improve digestive health and reduce gastrointestinal discomfort as well.

Before making any adjustments to your pet’s diet based on health conditions, consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Ingredient Quality

High-quality, natural ingredients have the biggest impact on the health and well-being of nursing dogs. Whole foods contain more of the essential nutrients that support lactation, ensuring the mother and her pups can thrive.

So make sure you check dog food labels  and consider avoiding things like artificial additives, preservatives, and fillers, as these can cause potential health issues or intolerances in nursing dogs.

Instead, opt for recipes made from whole-food ingredients that are minimally processed, like those from The Honest Kitchen. All of The Honest Kitchen’s foods are made with high-quality ingredients that are easier to digest and provide better nourishment for pregnant and lactating dogs and their puppies.

Diet Adjustments

Finally, pay attention to your nursing dog’s energy levels, appearance, and weight, and adjust her diet as needed.

For example, if your normally active dog starts becoming a couch potato, she might not be getting enough calories to keep her energy up. Likewise, if your lazy dog is suddenly bouncing off the walls, she might be getting too many extra calories.

Coat condition and stool consistency can also provide useful insights into your dog’s nutritional health. And of course, any weight gain or loss is an indication that her caloric intake needs adjustment.

If your nursing dog doesn’t have an appetite or is struggling to eat enough, try adding healthy fats or bone broth to her food to make it more inviting. Your vet can also give you nutrition recommendations to accommodate your dog’s specific health conditions.

Should a Nursing Dog’s Diet Change While Weaning?

As her puppies begin the weaning process and transition to solid food, a nursing dog's nutritional needs will change. So you’ll need to adjust her diet accordingly to support both the mother's recovery and the puppies' growth.

Limit the amount of food during this time to help decrease milk production gradually. As milk production decreases, so will your dog’s calorie needs. But it’s still important to maintain a balanced and nutrient-rich diet during this period to help your dog fully recover from whelping and nursing.

Emphasize nutrient-dense, whole foods that maintain muscle mass and promote optimal recovery postpartum. High-quality proteins, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals are key to a balanced diet during this transition.

Work with your vet during this process to ensure your nursing dog receives adequate nutrition and follows the correct weaning protocol. They can monitor your dog's weight and provide personalized recommendations based on her breed, health status, and needs.

What Are the Best Foods to Feed A Nursing Dog From The Honest Kitchen?

The Honest Kitchen offers foods for all life stages to support your dog and her puppies through pregnancy, nursing, and beyond. These top picks will help your nursing dog get the nutrients she needs to thrive.

Whole Grain Clusters for Puppies

The Honest Kitchen’s Whole Grain Clusters for Puppies is vet-formulated to meet the specific dietary needs of young dogs during their active growth stages. But it’s also ideal for nursing moms who need higher calories and protein.

Minimally processed to retain maximum nutrient content, this kibble alternative is made with whole food ingredients like cage-free chicken, oats, salmon oil, veggies, and probiotics.

For nursing dogs, Whole Grain Clusters offers several benefits, including:

  • Muscle maintenance and recovery support from high-protein cage-free chicken

  • Optimal energy, digestive health, and immune support from essential vitamins, minerals, and probiotics

  • Easily digestible and gentle on sensitive stomachs

  • Plenty of protein and nutrients to ensure optimal growth and development of puppies

Whole Grain Clusters are available in a variety of recipes, including chicken, beef, and turkey, ensuring that even the pickiest eaters find something they enjoy.

Superfood Pour-Over Supplements

Superfood Pour-Over Supplements are a convenient way to add extra nutrition and flavor to your dog's meals. These supplements contain real meat and a variety of nutrient-rich vegetables, and they come in easy-to-use, single-serve packets you can pour over your dog's food or mix in. 

They’re great for enticing picky eaters or dogs with decreased appetites due to nursing. Plus, the added nutrients and antioxidants support optimal recovery and a strong immune system, and they come in a variety of flavors, including beef, turkey, and chicken.

Bone Broth Pour-Over Supplements

Bone Broth Pour-Over Supplements help boost the nutrition and flavor of your dog’s meals. Made with real, human grade ingredients like chicken bone broth, butternut squash, and carrots, these supplements come in single-serve packets that make portioning straightforward and mess-free.

Your nursing furry friend will enjoy the:

  • Enhanced moisture and hydration

  • Increased palatability

  • Support for joint health from naturally occurring glucosamine and chondroitin

  • Added nutrients and antioxidants to promote overall wellness and recovery

They also come in different flavors, including chicken, turkey and salmon, and beef, to suit every dog’s taste buds.

Expertly Nourish Your Nursing Dog With The Honest Kitchen

Your furry companion deserves the best nutrition during every life stage, but especially during the demanding nursing period. The Honest Kitchen offers a range of high-quality, whole-food options specifically designed to meet the needs of your nursing dog and her puppies.

From puppy food to supplements, all of The Honest Kitchen’s products are made with real, human grade ingredients for optimal nutrition. With a variety of flavors and recipes available, you can ensure that your nursing dog has the essential nutrients they need and delicious meals they'll love.

Shop from The Honest Kitchen to give your nursing dog the flavorful and nutritious food she and her litter need to thrive.

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