Good nutrition and a balanced diet are essential elements for good health in a dog. This is especially true in the pregnant dog. Overfeeding or underfeeding at certain times during your dog's pregnancy can be detrimental to her health and the health of the developing puppies. When feeding the pregnant dog, people tend to overfeed early in pregnancy and not feed enough when the dog is nursing.
Your dog needs fresh water available at all times. This holds true during your dog's entire life. Unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian, your dog should never be denied access to water.
Prior to breeding, your dog should be fed a high-quality adult dog food. Learn more about proper feeding techniques by reading Feeding Your Adult Dog. After your dog is pregnant, continue to feed the normal amount of her high-quality adult dog food. There is little growth of the puppies during the first 4 to 5 weeks of pregnancy. (Pregnancy in dogs lasts for about 62 days.) This means that your dog will not need extra nutrients. Excess feeding early in pregnancy tends to add unnecessary fat, which will make delivery more difficult and increase the risk of complications. Be prepared for a 3 to 10 day period of a lack of appetite in your dog around the third week of pregnancy. This is a common occurrence and is not too much a concern if the dog is at least eating a little bit. If she completely stops eating for more than 1 to 2 days, consult your veterinarian.
During the last 3 to 4 weeks of pregnancy, the puppies begin to grow rapidly. This puts a big demand on nutrients and the mother-to-be will need more energy. During this final part of pregnancy, your dog's weight should gradually increase by 25 to 30 percent. For this reason, during the last 3 to 4 weeks of pregnancy, your dog should be gradually fed more and more food until she is eating about 25 to 30 percent more food by the time she delivers. This means that if your dog normally eats 1 cup of food twice a day, you should slowly increase her food until she is eating 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups of food twice a day. Also, it is a good idea to gradually switch her food over to a diet that contains more calories per mouthful. This includes growth/puppy food or a nursing/lactation diet. By feeding your adult dog puppy food, she will be able to consume the necessary nutrients to provide for her rapidly growing brood. A lactation diet is also a good choice.
How often you feed your dog will vary and may depend on the size of the litter. Some dogs with large litters do not have enough space to eat a big meal twice a day. You may have to provide small frequent meals throughout the day. Some people are successful leaving the day's ration in the bowl and allowing the dog to nibble at will. If you do decide to let her self-feed, it is very important to make sure your dog is eating enough food. A poor diet, especially late in pregnancy, can lead to pregnancy toxemia.
Just before delivery, your dog will drastically reduce the amount of food she eats and some will even stop eating. This is one of the signs that within the next 24 to 48 hours, puppies may be born. Leave food available in case she does want to eat, but don't expect her to have the same appetite. This decrease in appetite is nothing to worry about but you may want to get everything ready for the new arrivals! Be prepared by reading Normal Labor and Delivery.
A Word About Supplements
Some veterinarians recommend giving dogs vitamins during pregnancy. Many veterinarians feel that if fed properly, the dog will receive sufficient nutrients through the diet. Either way, don't add anything to your dog's diet unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian. Excessive of certain vitamins or minerals can have devastating effects on mom and babies.
Calcium is one supplement that deserves some special attention. Supplementing a pregnant dog is definitely not recommended. Giving calcium supplementation, especially late in pregnancy, has been linked to increasing the risk of eclampsia (low blood calcium) in nursing dogs. Excess calcium has also been linked to difficult deliveries, soft tissue calcium deposits in the puppies and certain joint abnormalities in the pups. For this reason, do not supplement your pregnant dog with calcium unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian.