A pregnant bitch needs little in the way of special attention. During the first half of pregnancy it is not necessary to restrict her activity. Moderate exercise is beneficial, because it helps prevent undue weight gain and maintains muscle tone. Activities such as climbing fences, roughhousing with other dogs and children, and leaping up and down stairs should be avoided during the last three or four weeks of pregnancy. Long walks are an excellent way to keep the bitch fit.
Raspberry leaves are advocated by many to help a bitch when whelping. Whether or not to add a pinch of dried raspberry leaves to the bitch’s food throughout pregnancy is more controversial. Consult your veterinarian before adding this or any supplement.
It is a good practice to deworm expectant mothers during the last two weeks of gestation and during lactation. This reduces environmental exposure to roundworm eggs (a human health hazard) and helps control roundworm infection in puppies.
Panacur (febendazole) is a deworming agent that is effective against roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. It is safe to use during pregnancy. Strongid (pyrantel pamoate) is another safe dewormer but doesn’t have as broad a spectrum of efficacy as fenbendazole.
Vaccinations, most medications, some flea and insecticide preparations, most hormones (including cortisone), and many dewormers are inadvisable during pregnancy.
Antibiotics that can effect fetal development include the tetracyclines, kanamycin, and Griseofulvin (fulvicin). Live-virus vaccines should not be given to pregnant females because of the risks of abortion and birth defects. Always check with your veterinarian before giving your bitch any drug or supplement during pregnancy.
Diet and Feeding
During the first four weeks of pregnancy, continue to feed the usual adult maintenance food. Protein and calorie requirements increase during the second half of pregnancy. More than 75 percent of puppy weight and at least 50 percent of puppy length is attained during the last three weeks of gestation. Beginning on day 35, gradually increase the amount of food so that by whelping time the dam is consuming 1.5 times her maintenance ration.
Also at this time, consider switching to a commercial food formulated for growing puppies. These products are especially suitable for pregnant and nursing females because ounce for ounce they contain more protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients. An appropriate food is one that contains at least 1,600 metabolizable kcals per pound (.45 kg) of food and at least 21 percent protein. Nutrient information is given on the package label.
Divide the day’s ration into equal parts and feed two or three meals a day. Avoid supplementing the bitch’s diet with treats, table scraps, or meat. To the extent that other foods supply additional calories, the dam may not eat enough of the pregnancy food to get all the nutrients she and her puppies need for a successful and healthy pregnancy.
Do not increase the caloric intake if the bitch is overweight. Excessive weight gain should be strictly avoided. Overweight bitches are notorious for having whelping problems. An expectant mother should gain no more than 15 to 25 percent of her body weight by the end of gestation, and should weigh no more than 5 to 10 percent above her normal weight after whelping.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are not required unless the dam is below par from an earlier litter or recovering from an illness. In fact, excessive supplementation can cause soft tissue calcifications and physical deformities in the developing puppies.
An expectant dam may lose her appetite a week or two before whelping. Her abdomen is crowded and she may have difficulty taking in large meals. Feed her several small meals spaced throughout the day.