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Canine reproduction is a complex physiological event. Even if you provide a nurturing environment and a proper diet, there are no guarantees of success. Fortunately, by monitoring and optimizing the weight of your breeding females, you can increase the success of your breeding program.

Breeding Program Checklist: When and How to Monitor Weight

  • Evaluate Body Weight Early. The first foundational step in a successful breeding program takes place weeks, if not months, before breeding. Work with your vet to evaluate the health of your breeding females. Confirm that they have up-to-date vaccinations, show normal blood values and have optimal body weight.
    • Correct Body Condition (Underweight). Underweight females might have a difficult time providing sufficient nutrients to their developing puppies, thus increasing the risk for low birth weight. If your breeding female is underweight, you’ll want to increase her energy intake and help improve her body condition by increasing the amount of food she is eating or transitioning her to a more nutrient-dense growth and reproduction formula.
  • Correct Body Condition (Overweight). Overweight females may have a harder time conceiving and are prone to whelping difficulties. While cutting her calories may result in weight loss, remember that by reducing her amount of food, you also decrease her nutrient intake. Therefore, the best approach for managing a chubby female is to increase her activity level, which promotes slow and steady weight loss. (A good target is 1%-2% of her body weight per week, or ½ to 1 pound for a 50-pound female.) Increasing activity can also help improve muscle tone and bone mineral content, which can be beneficial during the reproductive process.
  • Manage Weight Gain During Pregnancy. Monitor body weight throughout the reproductive process and target a body condition score (BCS) of 4, using the nine-point Royal Canin Scale at time of breeding. You’ll want to keep in mind that:
    • The early post-breeding period can be tricky to gauge, since you don’t yet know whether mating has been successful.
    • Embryonic puppies and reproductive tissues grow just a small amount during the first 30 to 40 days of pregnancy. Most pregnancy weight gain should be observed over the final three weeks, with a targeted increase of 15%-25% above the female’s breeding weight (assuming an ideal weight at breeding and an average size litter).
    • Example: A 55-pound female Labrador Retriever (BCS 4/9) carrying seven or eight puppies would be expected to gain 8 to 14 pounds over these three weeks, weighing 63 to 69 pounds by the last week of pregnancy.
  • Continue to Monitor Weight During Lactation. You can expect to see significant weight loss after whelping, and you can monitor the weight of both the breeding female and her pups to determine brood management performance. Strive to keep your breeding female’s weaning BCS close to her breeding BCS by giving her proper nutrition. This will minimize the amount of body tissue that she’ll need to sacrifice for milk production. Lactation is nutritionally challenging, so we’ve created this chart to help you estimate your breeding female’s energy needs by reproductive cycle.
  • Monitor Female and Puppy Weight after Whelping. Wait a few days to measure the female’s weight, as she will lose the weight of her puppies, fluids and tissues. Consider weighing her two or three times throughout the day to account for weight fluctuations based on meals, nursing and excretion. Make this weight her base, but keep in mind that you’ll slowly increase her food throughout the first four weeks of lactation.
  • Obtain and record a whelp weight for each puppy, and remember that puppies get all the nutrients they need from their mother during their first five weeks of life. Therefore, monitoring the growth rate and hydration status of the litter will also provide insight into the performance of their mother. (Slow growth or poor hydration status of several puppies is an indicator of poor maternal performance.)

You can expect a healthy puppy to double its weight every seven to 10 days. Weigh puppies every four or five days throughout weaning, but don’t be concerned if they lose a small amount of weight during their first 24 hours. You can monitor their hydration status through a combination of skin fold recovery and gum examination. (Your veterinarian can demonstrate how.) Since puppies rely on their mother for nutrition, it’s crucial to make sure that they are all eating and drinking on their own once they transition from her milk.

For tips on determining your dam’s whelping date, click here.