Nutritional Need of Pregnant Bitch
Pregnant bitch has very different nutritional requirement than non-pregnant one. This need of energy for the pregnant bitch increases as pregnancy progresses and the calcium requirement also varies with the advancement of pregnancy. The last 20-25 days of pregnancy is the crucial time for feeding of pregnant bitch. At this stage bitch require much more calcium to help with the growing puppies bones. Due care must be taken at this stage for calcium supplementation; it should neither be over nor under. The same supplementation continues till the weaning of puppies. During this period bitch may require feeding thrice or more times in a day. Besides calcium, pregnant bitch also has increased requirement for protein and vitamins as well as energy. To compensate the need of all ingredients best quality puppy food may be given. Obesity must be taken care of at this stage. Feeding of minced meat during last trimester of pregnancy must be avoided.
Essential nutrients for pregnancy maintenance are amino acids for the building blocks of proteins, fatty acids as a functional component of cellular membranes and endocrine system, vitamins and minerals. But over-nutrition can be as harmful as nutrients deficiencies. So the appropriate diet to the bitch with balanced nutrients must be provided during pregnancy.
Goals for Feeding Pregnant Bitch
The feeding of bitch requires maintenance diet as well as the diet for the nourishment of newborn pup. Overall the quality feeding program for a pregnant bitch has two main goals:
- To provide adequate nutrition so that her weight increases by 15 to 25 percent by the time of whelping.
- To maintain optimal body weight after parturition when she must produce sufficient quantities of milk and colostrum to support growth in the newborn pups until they are weaned.
To achieve these goals, pregnant bitch must be fed with adequate amounts of a good-quality, highly digestible, very palatable diet. It should contain at least 29 percent protein, 17 percent dietary fat and less than 5 percent dietary fiber on dry matter basis. These percentages should provide adequate calories and protein to support the tremendous demands of milk production and puppy growth.
Nutrition plays a vital role during pregnancy in bitch. So at this stage she requires high quality balanced food. In the first six weeks of the pregnancy, bitch should be fed with normal amount of food. Gradual increase in the amount of food during the final three weeks of the pregnancy is recommended to obtain the caloric intake i.e. 1.5 times to its normal amount. In the last three weeks, several small meals are recommended due to enlargement of uterus in late pregnancy and reduced capacity of stomach to hold food.
|Stage of Pregnancy||Feeding Schedule|
|First 3 weeks||Feed normal diet because at this stage very little foetal growth takes place|
|From 4th week||Hardboiled egg every other day is sufficient in addition to her normal food.|
|Over fifth week||Increase her food slightly and at this point add puppy food to her meals. For this purpose a mixture of meat, regular dried food, boiled egg, vegetables, cottage cheese, vitamin and mineral powder can also be given.|
|At week six||Increase the amount of food and include a boiled egg and cottage cheese daily.|
|At week seven||She will need to have both meals increased a little at this point.|
|At week eight||To keep her strong for whelping add a small extra meal between her two regular meals. But extra cottage cheese or boiled eggs should be avoided as too much protein and calcium can cause problems in lactation.|
|Week nine||Frequency of meal should be increased. Overall food should be at least 60% more than normal.|
Supplementation of Diet
One of the most touted supplemental regimens for the bitch is to increase calcium intake during pregnancy. It prevents the bitch body from metabolically primed to mobilize calcium from her bones. It also helps to cope up the bitch body at the time of lactation when the demands for calcium are suddenly and dramatically elevated. Another common dietary supplement that is touted is folic acid. This nutrient is highly promoted in humans to help prevent neural tube defects; however, this developmental disorder is very rarely seen in the dog.
Signs of Malnutrition in Pregnant Bitch
Veterinary nutritionists strongly believe that malnourishment of bitches before breeding and during pregnancy is a major factor in neonatal puppy mortality, which is estimated to be between 20 and 30 percent. Just like growth and performance, reproduction is a physiologic state with nutritional requirements that exceed those of a maintenance phase. A bitch that is pregnant draws upon the nutritional reserves deposited in her body before and during pregnancy. A malnourished female will not have sufficient protein, vitamins, minerals and energy to support pregnancy.
Malnourishment of a pregnant bitch can occur as the result of feeding poor-quality diets, imbalanced diets or insufficient amounts of good-quality diets. It can happen at any stage of gestation, though perhaps the danger is greatest during late pregnancy, when nutritional needs greatly increase. Improper feeding of a pregnant bitch can result in impaired health of both the bitch and her offspring. It may also cause birth defects, dystocia as well as improper mammary development which reduce the quality and amount of the milk and colostrum produced. Overweight bitches as well as those who are underweight may also have many of these problems.
Nutritional deprivation during pregnancy has been shown to affect the immune systems of both the bitch and her pups. The immune system is very sensitive to nutritional inadequacies during its formation and development. It can also affect the immune system’s ability to function during future pregnancies as well, even if proper nutrition is restored.
Many times the malnourishment of the bitch is not evident until it is too late. She may appear thin and out of condition once whelped with inadequate muscle and body-fat reserves to support lactation. The pups may suffer from fading puppy syndrome, appearing weak, crying frequently, eating poorly and lacking coordination. Many of these pups face early death.
To ensure the adequate nutritional status of bitch during pregnancy simple blood examination for anaemia or blood protein level may be helpful. If the sign of anaemia and low blood protein level detected than it should be corrected at the proper stage.
Pregnant bitch must be fed with a high-quality, well-balanced performance diet throughout gestation. The diet should also be highly digestible, very palatable and nutritious. It should contain at least 29 percent protein and 17 percent fat. High amounts of soluble carbohydrates and low fiber content are important to ensure adequate energy intake and to avoid hypoglycaemia in late pregnancy. Adequate intake of calcium (between 1% and 1.8%) and phosphorous (between 0.8% and 1.6%) intake is important for adequate milk production by bitch after whelping and proper bone formation in pups.
Dietary supplements such as meat, milk, vitamins and minerals are generally not recommended if a high-quality diet is fed. Feeding excessive amounts of calcium or vitamin D can cause calcification of the soft tissues of the foetus as well as other birth defects. Supplementation with meat products can reduce the carbohydrate content of the diet and can be associated with hypoglycaemia and stillbirths. If a high-quality, well-balanced growth/lactation ration is being fed, the actual amount of food required by the bitch during the first five to six weeks of pregnancy need not be increased significantly (10 percent maximum). This is because less than 30 percent of foetal growth occurs during these first few weeks. However, foetal growth rapidly increases in the last three to four weeks of gestation.
The bitch’s food intake should be gradually increased by a total of 15 to 25 percent by the time of whelping to ensure adequate gain of body weight and increase of nutritional reserves. Because many females suffer from decreased appetite late in pregnancy due to abdominal distension, more frequent meals help maintain nutrient intake during this critical time. She should be fed at least twice daily. Indeed, many breeders will be feeding free choice by the time whelping approaches. Maintaining adequate nutrition during the last trimester by feeding greater amounts of high-quality, well-balanced and palatable growth/lactation diet in frequent meals is critical to support the bitch and her pups for the next few weeks and to assure future good health.
Most commercial dog foods do not contain sufficient nutrient density especially caloric content, to support pregnancy. The feeding of these products is the most common cause of malnutrition. If a bitch that is being fed free choice is thin by the time of weaning then the quality of her food as well as its caloric density, is inadequate. In such case higher-quality, more calorie-dense product is generally recommended. A less desirable alternative is to supplement the current diet with a fat source i.e. one tablespoon of fat per cup of dry food. Grease, lard, tallow or vegetable oil is acceptable and will raise the number of calories by 30 percent. Overall balanced food with protein, fat, calcium and vitamin is most appreciable.
- Bebiak, O.M., Lawler, O.F., Reutzel, L.F. (1987). Nutrition and management of the dog. Vet Clin N Am Small Anim Pract; 17:505-533.
- Beverly J., Purmell, B.J., Nikola, A., Parker, D.M. and Hess, M. (2000). Information published in Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg publication.
- Moser E. (1992). Feeding to optimize canine reproduction efficiency. Prob Vet Med; 4:545-550.
- Mosier, J.E. (1977).Nutritional recommendations for gestation and lactation in the dog. Vet Clin N Am; 7:683-692.
- Hefner, K. (2002). The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch. Published in American Kennel Club publication.