Care and Feeding for your Pregnant or Nursing Dog

by Poulsen Photo

How are her needs different now?

The pregnancy and nursing stages are the most energy demanding that a dog’s body will experience in her lifetime. Because of her nutritional and hormonal needs, changes should be made to both her nutrition and environment. Megan Grant, of Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, provides the following information on caring for your pregnant or nursing dog.


Stages of Pregnancy

Pregnancy in the dog lasts approximately 63 days and is divided into 3 trimesters of 21 days each. When and how to make changes for your pregnant bitch can be important. These changes can best be understood by knowing why her needs change.



1st Trimester:

  • Normal  energy demand
  • Minimal fetal development
  • Few noticeable changes

2nd Trimester

  • Normal  energy demand
  • Increased  fetal development
  • Begin to  see slight weight gain

3rd Trimester

  • High  energy demand
  • Maximal  fetal development
  • Hormonal  changes occur
  • Obvious abdominal enlargement
  • Mammary  development
  • May become restless, seek seclusion, or become irritable


  • High energy demand
  • High milk output


WHAT and HOW should she eat?

Water and energy are the most important nutrients for a dog in late pregnancy or one who’s nursing. Because of this, it is recommended that she begin eating a high calorie diet beginning around 5-6 weeks into her pregnancy and continue until the puppies are weaned.

Most veterinarians find that puppy foods or those with an “all life stages” claim on the label are suitable. It is also recommended that the bitch be fed free choice to ensure that she is receiving all the nutrients that she needs.

Fresh clean water should be offered at all times and in multiple places in her environment.


Dos & Don’ts


  • Offer fresh high calorie foods throughout the day
  • Maintain frequent check-ups at veterinarian
  • Make a quiet space in your home just for her



  • Don’t offer supplements unless instructed to by your vet
  • Don’t medicate at home until checking with your vet
  • Don’t make  drastic environmental changes


Making a Welcoming Environment

Here are some key tips to providing an environment that is suitable for the pregnant and nursing bitch:

  • Find a quiet spot in the house that can be her own area for refuge or sanctuary;
  • Build or purchase a whelping box (similar to the one shown) and place it in her quiet area
  • Avoid big  changes in the house such as moving furniture, having numerous guests over, adding another pet, etc


How to Know “When it’s Time”

Signs to look for which may indicate that your dog may be whelping soon:

  • Drop in body temperature (usually below 1000 F)
  • Restlessness and seeking privacy
  • Abnormal behavior (digging, shivering, panting, vomiting)
  • Swollen vulva
  • Vulvar discharge

Although this list is not exhaustive, it is a good start of things to look for to alert you an approaching birth.

Although this list is not exhaustive, it can be helpful in alerting you to an approaching birth.



  • Feed a  complete and balanced growth food during the last trimester of gestation
  • Make sure your pregnant or lactating bitch always has access to fresh water and food
  • Resist  giving any supplements or medications without first consulting your  veterinarian
  • Provide a  quiet stress free environment
  • Seek veterinarian attention for any changes, problems, or concerns you may have about your dog’s health

Additional Resources


Created by Megan Grant CVM Class of 2009


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