The simplest explanation for why a dog wouldn't have milk when giving birth is that it's too soon. While some dogs have nipple discharge during pregnancy, this is rarely true milk. The first substance your momma dog's teats produce is colostrum. Actual milk won't appear until around 48 hours after the pups are born.
Lactation is a cascade that happens step by step from the time your dog gives birth. The initial colostrum may not be apparent or may look like watery fluid, but it's all the newborn pups need. They must get it, because the antibodies and concentrated nutrients in colostrum kickstart their immune and digestive systems. It'll be up to two days before Momma starts making true milk. If everything's normal, the pups will begin gaining weight by five days old and double their birth weight between days seven and 10, but Momma won't hit her peak milk production until the puppies reach three weeks old.
Milk quantity operates on supply and demand. Momma's body releases the hormone prolactin as pups suckle. Prolactin makes her produce milk; more suckling equals more milk. The sooner her pups nurse, the sooner she gets this important feedback. Early pups can even nurse while their siblings are being born, though you may have to gently remove them during contractions. As her pups are born, Momma will clean them and eat the placentas. This can stimulate lactation, but can also increase risk for diarrhea, so be sure she has adequate fluid and consider cutting her off if she has more than four or five pups or starts having runny poop. Don't panic and start puppy formula right away -- supplementing too soon and the puppies will demand less milk, which will correspondingly decrease your dog's supply.
Dehydration and malnutrition can prevent Momma dog from producing enough milk. Wrinkly teats are a visible symptom of dehydration. Momma won't want to leave her pups -- you have to bring liquid to her in the form of water and soupy food. A nursing doggy's caloric demand is up to four times greater than her maintenance diet. To meet this, you'll increase frequency of feeding rather than volume of meals. You should have begun increasing her food by around 25 percent during the last two to three weeks of pregnancy, and you'll gradually continue to increase it through peak production at around three weeks after birth. Momma needs a "growth" or "high performance" food. Fat should make up nearly 25 percent of the total calories and protein should make up about 30 percent.
Momma dog's milk may come in slowly or she may have too little if she's stressed. Keep other dogs, additional pets and unnecessary human traffic out of the puppy room. Too much activity while she's giving birth and in the early weeks, when her pups are most vulnerable, will interfere with her natural ability to care for them.
By Angela Libal
Vet West Animal Hospitals: Breeding - Growing, Lactation, Weaning
American Kennel Club: The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch, Part 2
University of Illinois, College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences: Comparative Lactation - Cats and Dogs
Dogs ACT: Feeding Dogs During Gestation and Lactation
PuppyMilk.org: Nursing Healthy Full-Term Puppies
About the Author
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.