Working dog nutrition: feeding for breeding

Improve litter size, birth weight and puppy survival with excellent bitch nutrition.

Only dogs in optimal condition should be bred. Poor nutrition can result in poor conception rates, early embryonic losses, congenital deformities and poor neonatal survival.

Overfeeding in early pregnancy can also result in increased fat deposition in the abdomen and the uterine muscle, resulting in an increased risk of whelping difficulties.

During pregnancy (63 +/- 2 days), a bitch’s energy requirements will increase to 1.25 - 1.5X maintenance levels after the 40th day of gestation. Meeting this requires a gradual increase of food during the last trimester. 

This may need to be divided into several meals a day, as the growing puppies and enlarging uterus will cause abdominal distension, making it difficult for the bitch to maintain her appetite and eat enough food.

What should I feed her?

Feeding a high quality commercial diet will best meet the exacting nutritional requirements of protein, fat, carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorus, other minerals and micronutrients she requires.

It is important to monitor a pregnant bitch’s food intake because, with her increasing energy demands from the growing puppies, a state of accelerated starvation can result in pregnancy toxaemia. Anorexia, especially in the last two weeks of pregnancy, requires immediate veterinary attention.

Boosting milk production

Peak milk production is 3-4 weeks after whelping. Depending on the size of her litter, she will need to consume:

  • 1- 1.5X maintenance energy requirements for the first week of lactation;

  • Double maintenance on the second week;

  • Up to 3X maintenance during the third and fourth week.

By providing a high-energy, nutrient dense diet, such as the ones that are designed for performance, she will have a good chance of maintaining her body weight throughout the lactation period. This can be given either by free choice feeding or providing several meals a day.

Of course, water must always be available.


As with most newborn animals, their immune system is greatly aided by that first feed of their mother's milk. Colostrum antibody levels peak 8 hours after whelping and can best be absorbed during a puppy’s first 24 hours of life.

Do I need to provide supplements?

With a better understanding of the complexity of calcium requirements and balance in the pregnant and lactating bitch, the current recommendation is that there is no need to feed her mineral supplements and that doing so may cause more harm than good.

The benefits of good nutrition

Take full advantage of the benefits of good nutrition and feed a diet appropriate for breeding from the time of mating, through pregnancy and lactation.

Excellent nutrition can improve embryonic survival, litter size and birth weight and provide optimal nutritional needs for lactation and puppy survival.


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