Looking at your beloved pooch and her new litter of puppies, you may worry about all of those hungry mouths. This is a valid concern; if the puppies’ demands exceed her production capabilities, she may temporarily run out of milk. Fortunately, puppies spend much of their time sleeping, which helps the mom to catch up. Because milk production is energetically expensive, you must ensure the mother consumes enough calories for milk production.
It is important to ensure that your mama-to-be gets plenty of calories during her pregnancy, which helps her to build up fat stores and prepare her body for the toll motherhood will take. Though she may not exhibit increased appetite at first, she will consume more food as the pregnancy progresses. During the second half of her pregnancy, your dog may double her food intake. The American Kennel Club reports that most commercial dog foods do not have sufficient caloric density to maintain a nursing dog. In the absence of high-quality food designed for lactating females, the club recommends supplementing dry food with additional fats in the form of lard, grease or vegetable oil.
Come and Get It
The mother should produce milk immediately after birth. The Grove Lodge Veterinary Group, of Broadwater, UK, recommend gently drawing milk from the mother’s nipples immediately after birth to ensure that she is producing milk. Puppies that cry while nursing may indicate that the mother is not producing milk, is producing insufficient amounts of milk or she has developed an infection. Nervous mothers may stop producing milk; to ensure that mama feels secure and comfortable, partially cover the nest area with a sheet or curtain.
Enough to Go Around
Entire litters can perish within 24 to 48 hours if the mother does not produce sufficient milk. VCA Animal Hospitals recommends supplemental feeding whenever the mother may not be producing enough milk, and for all litters of five or more puppies. Most dogs have enough teats to satisfy every puppy, but extremely large litters may produce more puppies than nipples -- take a quick count to ensure the numbers work. Large dog breeds usually have 10 teats, while smaller breeds generally have only eight.
The composition of dog milk changes throughout the nursing period. At the midpoint of the cycle, it is much more calorically rich than human milk, has more than twice the amount of fat and nearly 10 times the protein; however, it only has about half as much sugar. The puppies place the greatest nutritional demands on the mother during the third and fourth week of the pregnancy. By the fifth or sixth week of nursing, many of the puppies will begin lapping up softened dog food, reducing the demands placed on the mom. Most puppies wean at six to seven weeks of age.
Potential for Problems
Inadequate resources or excessive demands can harm the mother as well as the puppies. Nursing dogs may be susceptible to a condition known as eclampsia, which causes convulsions. Eclampsia is caused in part by the excess calcium demands on the female that exceed the mother’s ability to mobilize calcium from her bones. While veterinarians sometimes recommend calcium during periods of peak demand, preemptive administration does not help and may cause other problems.
- Grove Lodge Veterinary Group: Dog Breeding, Gestation and Lactation: A Guide
- University of Illinois, Urbana-Champain: Comparative Lactation - Cats and Dogs
- American Kennel Club: The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch - Part Two
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Puppy - Raising
- AustinTexas.gov: Nursing Mothers and Their Puppies
- Brightwood Animal Hospital: Canine Raising Puppies
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images