Mother Nature decrees that a pregnant animal's body must devote itself to the development of the babies. That means a female dog should be in good physical shape before she's bred. Those two months of gestation take a lot out of a dog. A malnourished dog's inner workings will utilize all the nutrients necessary to nourish the fetuses, at the risk of the mother's life and those of the puppies.
The mother dog is eating for more than eating for two. She might be eating for six or more. The American Kennel Club recommends feeding a high-quality diet consisting of at least 29 percent protein and 17 percent fat -- a diet for puppies or high-energy dogs. Start feeding her such ration as soon as she becomes pregnant, no more than normal. After her gestation's first month, gradually increase her food intake, up to 25 percent extra daily by the time she's ready to give birth. As she gestates, offer her several small meals throughout the day rather than one or two large feedings.
Unless your dog participates in strenuous physical exercise, she can maintain her normal routine for the first month of her pregnancy. Taking regular walks helps maintain her muscle tone. By the sixth week of pregnancy, she'll have gained considerable weight and her mammary glands will have gotten bigger. By that point, she should take it relatively easy. Short, easy walks in good weather are fine, but don't let her do anything to potentially cause overexertion.
Because anything she consumes can affect the puppies, don't give your dog any supplements or over-the-counter medications without checking with your vet. Keep your home as quiet and stress-free as possible. This is not the time to do major home renovation or anything disrupting normal routine, such as adding another dog to the household. Make sure your dog has a private area of her own where she can rest, away from other pets or children.
Ideally, your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations before breeding. In most cases, it's not a good idea to vaccinate a pregnant dog, as it could harm the fetuses. If a pregnant dog is in a high-stress environment -- such as a shelter -- with an unknown vaccination history, the risk of coming down with a serious disease might outweigh potential fetal damage. That's especially true in the case of distemper or parvovirus.
By Jane Meggitt
Hill's Pet Nutrition: Feeding Priorities for Pregnant or Nursing Dogs
American Kennel Club: The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch - Part One
VetStreet: Pregnancy in Dogs
American Animal Hospital Association: When Is It Appropriate to Vaccinate Pregnant Dogs?
Michigan State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital: Care and Feeding for Your Pregnant or Nursing Dog
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.