Although a mother dog's body works overtime producing milk for her growing puppies, that doesn't mean you should give her milk. Many dogs can't process milk, a condition known as lactose intolerance. Giving milk causes diarrhea and digestive upset. Nursing mother dogs do have special nutritional concerns that you should meet however.
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Dogs should always have fresh, clean water available. It's especially important for nursing mothers, as milk production easily causes dehydration if the water intake isn't sufficient. Cow or goat milk can't substitute for water, because dogs don't possess enough lactose in their systems, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. If the mother dog experiences diarrhea from milk consumption, that adds to the likelihood that she'll become dehydrated.
If the mother dog normally eats once or twice a day when she's not pregnant or lactating, either feed her more often or let her have food available at all times. Don't worry about overfeeding her -- that's almost impossible to do with a lactating dog. The website PetMD advises free-choice feeding until the puppies are completely weaned, which generally occurs between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks. That means free-choice for mom and puppies -- they start nibbling at solid food when they're 3 weeks old.
Your nursing dog's nutritional requirements depend on various factors, including the number of puppies. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, "The larger the litter, the greater the nutrient requirements for milk production." Breed size also comes into play. Smaller breeds actually require more food, based on comparable size, than larger canines. That's because small breeds have greater energy needs. High-strung mother dogs of any breed need additional calories, because of their nervous energy. The AKC's health foundation recommends feeding the mother dog 25 percent more food per puppy than she normally eats at the time of peak milk production. If she has four puppies, she'll eat twice as much food as usual.
Regular dog foods might not provide an adequate amount of nutrients for the lactating dog. Foods designed for puppies contain lots of calories for growing bodies, and it's also just what nursing mothers require. Feeding the nursing mother puppy food also means that the babies can start sampling appropriate food. If the mother dog loses weight even with free-choice feeding of puppy food, consider adding some fat to her diet, possibly in the form of vegetable oils. Ask your veterinarian for guidance in choosing the best brand and type of food for your dog.
By Jane Meggitt
American Kennel Club: The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch - Part Two
City of Austin, Texas: Nursing Mothers and Their Puppies
petMD: Feeding During Pregnancy and Lactation
ASPCA: Diet for a Dog Nursing Pups
ASPCA: People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets
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.