A nursing dam’s calorie requirements increase steadily as her puppies grow. By the third or fourth week, she needs two to three times more calories than she did before pregnancy. If her diet is not adjusted to supply these calories, she may not be able to produce enough milk to nourish her puppies. Inadequate milk production is a common cause of puppy mortality.
Many commercial dog foods do not provide enough calories to support lactation. It is important to switch to a food advertised as formulated for growing puppies. You may have already done this during the second half of pregnancy. Ounce for ounce, these foods contain more calories, protein, and calcium. The food should contain 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.
Do not use table scraps or treats to supply additional calories. The calories provided will not be of the same quality and may cause the dam to eat less of the high-quality food. Kibble can be left down all the time for the dam to eat whenever she is hungry. Canned foods should be fed at least three times a day.
How much should you feed a nursing dam? During the first week, feed one and a half times the manufacturer’s recommended daily maintenance ration. Increase this to twice the daily ration during the second week. By the third week, a nursing dam should be eating three times the normal maintenance ration. These amounts may need to be decreased if the litter is small. Slowly reduce the size of the portions after the fourth week in preparation for wean- ing. Be sure to keep clean, fresh water available at all times.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary, and can even be harmful. Avoid them, unless the dam refuses to eat her food or has a preexisting deficiency or a chronic illness. In these circumstances, seek veterinary consultation.
Raspberry leaves are advocated by many breeders 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, and some veterinarians believe it may increase the need for a C-section. Consult your veterinarian before adding any supplements to the dam’s diet.