Nutrition and the Brood Bitch
Nutrition is a key element for fertility, the healthy development of the neonates, production of milk during lactation, producing good muscle tone for labor and instilling good immune systems in both the dam and the puppies. It is important to start good nutrition a few months before the planned breeding. This helps set the stage to build a healthy uterine lining and keeps the hormones working well to insure better fertility.
The foundation for a successful breeding program is a proper diet. The foods necessary are animal based proteins and fats. Fat helps provide energy and essential fatty acids that dogs can’t get from plant based fat sources. Animal based proteins contain the all the necessary building blocks (amino acids) to help with fetal development and they help build and maintain a healthy immune system for the brood bitch. While carbohydrates (sugars) contain calories, they have little to offer. They lack some of the important amino acids found in animal based foods, including taurine and l-carnitine and they lack essential fats and necessary minerals. High sugar diets may also result in shorter heat cycles and lower fertility.
While some premium commercial pet foods may claim to be low in carbohydrates and grain free, they still contain high amounts of starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, pumpkin, carrots, etc). These are all high in sugar, and offer little nutrition to dogs. They are utilized as ‘fillers’, to give dry dog food shelf life. Developing neonates need the amino acids found in animal based proteins for the growth of muscles, and healthy heart, kidney, coat, and nerve development. Dogs need meat for sources of iron, which unlike humans can’t be absorbed in supplements. Meat also provides B vitamins, which are important for nerve development, and contain the amino acids needed for healthy heart, renal and liver function.
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When feeding a fresh food diet, the normal daily feeding amount is 2% to 3% of the body weight, but this will increase significantly throughout the pregnancy. As the pregnancy continues, most bitches will require more food. After the fourth week, about a third more food will be required, with this amount increasing as the whelping date nears. This amount will vary due to litter size. If she is carrying a large litter, smaller more frequent meals will be helpful for the decreasing room in her abdomen.
In order to achieve better nutrition, the best method would be a raw diet. This would include a daily menu of 50% muscle meat, organ meat, plain yogurt, cottage cheese and eggs. The other 50% would be raw meaty bones, which would include chicken necks, backs, wings or leg quarters, pork ribs, necks or pork tails, turkey necks, lamb ribs, canned mackerel, salmon or sardines.
Home cooked meals are another option. These would be 75% animal protein based and 25% carbohydrates. I would suggest sticking to lower sugar content carbohydrates, such as broccoli, dark leafy greens, summer squash, cauliflower, green beans and Brussel sprouts. Add 900 mg of calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, which can be found at most grocery stores, pharmacies or health food stores.
The last option, while not ideal, is to add fresh food to a commercial dog food. I suggest making 50% of this diet with animal based proteins. Easy additions to kibble include eggs, meat, canned mackerel, salmon or sardines, plain yogurt, cottage cheese and organ meat, such as kidney or liver. Adding fresh animal protein will provide iron, B vitamins, taurine and l-carnitine. Adding any fresh food to a commercial diet is helpful for enhancing nutrition.
With any of these diets, it is helpful to offer a mixture of 3/4 goats milk, 1/4 yogurt and an egg twice daily during the last trimester, and also frequently during nursing. Also giving this mixture during labor can help keep contractions and labor running smoothly.
Supplements are also important for good fertility, good development of the fetuses, and milk production.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
This essential fatty acid is of paramount importance for fetal brain and nerve development, as well as eyesight. It is also helpful in maintaining a healthy immune system. A recommended dose is 1,000 mg (180 EPA and 120 DHA) per 20 pounds of the mother’s body weight daily. Animal sources are best and these include Salmon or fish body oil (NOT cod liver oil). These oils are fragile and do not survive well when exposed to light or oxygen, nor do they survive in commercial products or powders, so gel capsules are best.
B Vitamins help with nerve development, help to maintain kidney function, good muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract and help with eyes and skin. Give 50 mg daily.
This supplement helps aid the uptake of iron into the system. It helps with collagen (tissue) building, and supports the immune system. 50 mg to 100 mg per 10 lbs of body weight daily.
This vitamin is important for the proper absorption of calcium and helps with fetal bone development. Foods that contain vitamin D include canned mackerel and salmon, eggs and dairy products.
This antioxidant helps with healing, the nervous system, aids circulation and prevents cell damage. It may help prevent cleft palates as well.
The Vitamin to Avoid:
The one vitamin to AVOID is Vitamin A. High doses of retinal can cause damage to the fetus in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Avoid a high intake of liver and do NOT give cod liver oil to a pregnant bitch. Do not give a large dog more than 5,000 mg of vitamin A per day, a medium dog more than 2,000 mg and a small dog no more than 1,000 mg daily.
Lactating females require even more food during nursing. At this time a diet high in animal protein and fat is necessary for proper milk production and to help maintain energy for the female during labor and lactation. She will burn more calories at this point than any other.
* Don’t forget to offer a variety of foods and understand that she may desire foods other than her favorites at this time. Often my girls will want more organ meat, more dairy and raw meaty bones. Follow her lead and offer her a variety of food types.
* Don’t forget to keep the pregnant female in good physical shape, which would include daily walks, time in the yard and low impact exercise. This will help during the time of whelping.
Remember the Necessary Nutrients
The nutrients that are necessary to supplement because they are not present in most foods include:
- * Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon or fish oil)
- * Folic acid (part of most B complexes)
- * Vitamin C
- * Vitamin D
- *Vitamin E
We wish you and your families a very Happy Holiday Season!
Lucy and her Thanksgiving Litter!