Things to Consider
Pregnancy is a serious and complex medical condition. It is important for breeders to understand the special needs of the pregnant dog so that she receives the very best in terms of nutrition, safety, comfort and health. Proper care also involves taking steps to prevent early embryonic loss, fetal abortion and physical fetal abnormalities. Novice breeders should have a pre-breeding pregnancy evaluation performed by a veterinarian, to verify the dog’s overall health and to discuss an action plan for her ongoing care.
Most canine fetal growth and weight gain happens during the second half of pregnancy. For the first 3-4 weeks, the dam can be fed her normal high-quality, well-balanced diet, as long as she was healthy and in good body condition when she was bred. After that, her food intake should increase by about 10% per week, so that she has a 15% to 35% increase in body weight by the time she whelps. Both the fat and the animal-based protein content of her diet should be raised; carbohydrates and fiber normally do not need to be adjusted. During the last few weeks of pregnancy, the dam’s uterus will occupy so much of her abdomen that she won’t be able to consume all the food she needs to eat in one or two daily meals. She should be fed a high-calorie, protein-rich diet in multiple small meals, so that her stomach can physically accommodate and process all the nutrients that she and her puppies need. Many experts recommend switching the dam to a premium-quality puppy-growth feed throughout her pregnancy, but especially in the second half and then while she is nursing. Most high-quality commercial dog foods are well-balanced and nutritionally appropriate to feed to a pregnant dog without supplementation. Owners should not add calcium, vitamins or other supplements to their dog’s diet during pregnancy without veterinary advice, as these can predispose the female to dystocia (abnormal or difficult birth) and eclampsia (“milk fever”) and can contribute to birth defects in her puppies. If a pregnant dog goes several days without eating, she should be seen by a veterinarian. Hormonal changes can affect appetite, and dogs can get morning sickness 2 to 4 weeks into their pregnancy. Still, they need to eat regularly. Persistent refusal of food can be a sign of trouble.
Females should be vaccinated about one month before being bred, so that they develop the maximum amount of antibodies to pass to their puppies in colostrum. They should not be vaccinated less than one month before breeding or during pregnancy, because many vaccines contain modified live viruses that can be dangerous to unborn offspring.
Obesity increases the difficulty of delivering a litter. Females should get light daily exercise during the first 4 weeks of pregnancy. After that, they should be walked for a short to moderate period of time every day, although during the last 2 weeks, they probably won’t be comfortable doing even that. They shouldn’t be allowed to jump from heights or roughhouse with other dogs at any time during pregnancy.