It may be that your beloved pet pooch is expecting, or you are a breeder who wants to maintain the health of your animals during pregnancy. Whatever the circumstances, it is good to know that as a dog owner there is plenty you can do in terms of diet to look after your pet as she awaits her litter. Please be aware that the average dog litter consists of about five or six pups, but this can differ from breed to breed. As well as the advice here, check specifically with breeder guidelines for caring for your pet during pregnancy as all breeds can differ slightly, and certainly the size and average weight of your dog can change the parameters also.

The basic feeding principles

Whether your dog is pregnant or nursing, there are feeding basics which you should consider. Firstly, avoid processed foods and kibble too, which is best avoided at all times (the carbohydrate makeup of kibble is simply too high for dogs, who are used to a predominantly meat-based diet. Kibble also contains a high level of carcinogens and can also be bad for your pooch’s teeth).

“Don’t be afraid of overfeeding in times of pregnancy as dogs need as much food as they can get to care for their puppies. If your dog appears to be losing weight at this time, then you can try making the food moister, or even switching to a diet that contains even more nutrients. And keep the water coming too,” advises Bette Delaware, an animal blogger at Let's Go And Learn and My Writing Way.

Specific to pregnancy

A dog’s gestation period is typically only about nine weeks, and for the first half of that at least you will not notice much difference in your dog’s behavior or physical appearance. However, around week six or seven your dig should start to gain weight, and this is where more food may be required – 25% more is usually a good guide to follow. 

“A loss of appetite in your dog usually means that her puppies are imminent, but do seek advice from a vet or professional breeder to understand more about the behaviors to look out for during the latter days of pregnancy so you can begin to prepare for the event,” says Joss Chamberlain, a veterinarian writer at Resumention and Grade On Fire.

When nursing

A dog that is nursing its pups also needs to adapt its diet accordingly. Unsurprisingly, as the puppies begin to grow in size, the demands increase on the nursing mother, who in turn will look for additional food to support her during these testing times. Expect your dog to look to at least double her food intake at this stage, and once again do not be concerned about overfeeding (especially if you are delivering the good quality, nutrient-rich food that is recommended). You may notice around three to four weeks that the puppies will start taking an interest in their mother’s food too, which is a good sign.

The puppies themselves

As for the pups, the first two months will see them exclusively fed by their mother, but you will notice around the third or fourth week that they begin to take an interest in their mother’s food, and by two months they will be completely weaned, meaning they are not fed by their mother at all any more. The mother will therefore begin to stop lactating, which also means a change in diet will be required. On the first weaning day it is advisable not to give the mother any food at all – only water – and then steadily build up food intake over the next few days until you arrive at the pre-pregnancy levels, and not more.

Changing your dog’s diet

It is advisable at any stage when you change your dog’s diet that you do it slowly, and get advice where possible regarding what nutrient-rich foods to feed her while pregnant. In general, moistening food should make it more attractive to your dog, and there are arguments to be made for staying with fresh food at all times, when your dog is pregnant and not. Likewise, there are strong arguments to be made that both processed foods such as those often found in tins, as well as kibble, are best avoided at all times.