Good nutrition for brood bitches is critical for the health of mom and puppies alike, but it does not need to be complicated. In fact, simpler might be better.
We talked with veterinarian and Whippet breeder Dr. Deana McNamer and longtime breeder Lorraine Rothrock of Southern Wirehaired Pointing Griffons. They shared their feeding advice for expecting canine mothers.
McNamer has been a veterinarian at Town and Country Veterinary Hospital in Apex, NC, since 2002. Her first litter of Whippets was born in 2011, and she has whelped six litters since then.
“I focus on performance activities with my Whippets, so when I plan a breeding, I am starting with a bitch that is in good condition: a good weight and overall, physically fit and active,” she said. “Starting with a bitch that is underweight, overweight or lacking good conditioning can increase the risk of complications during whelp as well as make it difficult to support the puppies once they are born.”
In general, she feeds a high-quality commercial kibble and supplements with raw (beef with organ meat) at the evening meal. Once a bitch is successfully bred, she changes only two things:
- She starts supplementing her with 400 ug (microgram) of folic acid once a day.
- She avoids any medications unless absolutely needed.
“I feed normal meal portions throughout the full pregnancy. If for some reason, the bitch is looking thin, I will increase her intake slightly (by 10%),” McNamer said. “I find it normal for many bitches to go off their food around three weeks after conception. This is normal and I don’t worry about it as long as they are otherwise feeling good and acting normal. My recommendations are do not change for those feeding raw versus feeding only kibble, as long as those feeding 100% raw are feeding a balanced diet.”
If the bitch is underweight at the time of breeding, McNamer might try to get her to gain some weight during the pregnancy by offering additional food. However, she does not usually recommend putting her on a diet if she is overweight.
There is often confusion regarding calcium supplementation. Excessive calcium intake during pregnancy or nursing can suppress parathyroid hormone production and increases the risk of developing low blood calcium levels or eclampsia.
McNamer stresses that “It is NOT recommended to supplement with calcium prior to whelping; this is now understood to lead to complications during whelping and is contraindicated.
“Once labor has started and puppies are being delivered, if I have a large litter and the bitch seems to be getting tired, I might offer small amounts of cottage cheese, vanilla ice cream or some cooked chicken between puppies to give her some energy,” she said. “I would only supplement actual calcium during whelping if the bitch is having complications that required it and then it should be done with close monitoring with your veterinarian.”
Once the puppies are born, Dr. McNamer increases the volume of food, allowing the mother to eat as much as she wants. She usually offers at least three to four meals a day, depending on the size of the litter. “I will also add cottage cheese and eggs to her normal diet, mainly because the Whippets really like it, but also because it encourages them to eat well,” she added.
Rothrock, a retired registered nurse of 42 years, has shown and bred dogs for 44 years. Recently she raised a litter of 12 puppies. When the x-ray was done at 57 days, the vet told her that there were 12, maybe 14 puppies!
“Good nutrition for my brood bitch begins before breeding,” she said. Like McNamer, Lorraine feeds high quality kibble and supplements with a variety of meats.
“I don’t eat the same things all the time, and I’m sure they don’t like to either. I add chicken livers to their food daily. Dogs do best with some organ meat added to their diet,” Rothrock said.
She also starts the mom on a prenatal vitamin for dogs as soon as she’s been bred. Some breeders switch to a puppy formula for their dams; Lorraine does this as soon as pregnancy is verified at 30 days by ultrasound. She also gives a pre- and probiotic to help with digestion and absorption of nutrients.
During the delivery, Lorraine also offers her whelping bitches chicken broth, yogurt, and vanilla ice cream as well as canned puppy food and water with a little Karo syrup in it.
“I hand feed and put bowls of fluid under their noses to get them to eat or drink. I’m constantly keeping her hydrated and fed all through the process to give her a better level of energy.”
In Rothrock’s experience, most of her dams have not always had big appetites during pregnancy and lactation, but this particular mom was a good eater throughout. She was able to nurse all 12 puppies and actually needed to lose some weight after the litter was raised!
“The best thing any breeder can do is to be prepared for as many things as you can,” Rothrock said. “A good nutrition program for mom and puppies has paid off for me with very strong healthy puppies.”