Feeding and Exercising the Pregnant Dog
Q: My three year old female Labrador retriever mated with my neighbor’s dog about four weeks ago. Her abdomen is getting larger, so I am fairly certain she is pregnant. What type of food should I feed her and how much? What restrictions are there on the amount of exercise that she should be allowed?
A: It is very important that you take her to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible for a complete examination. The veterinarian will evaluate her individual condition and determine if she is pregnant or if there might be another problem. The duration of pregnancy (gestation period) in the dog is approximately 63 days. A pregnant dog will require an increased amount of food mainly during the last half of pregnancy. Usually, we do not change the type of food that she normally eats providing it is a good balanced commercial dog food. She should be fed her regular maintenance diet for the first four weeks of pregnancy. Then, gradually increase the amount of food by twenty to fifty percent over the last five weeks. A good way to do this is to increase the amount of food by ten percent per week during the last five weeks. She will be eating about fifty percent more than her normal amount of food when she gives birth (whelping). It is best not to let her become overweight as this could make the delivery of her puppies more difficult. Most pregnant dogs will weigh about twenty percent more than their pre-breeding weight at the end of gestation. This will vary depending on the size of the litter. Labrador retrievers often have seven or eight puppies. During milk production (lactation) and nursing, the new mother will need to eat up to two to three times as much food. The demand on her body is the greatest in the first four weeks of nursing. It is best to increase the amount of food by increasing the number of feedings to three or four times a day. Some veterinarians recommend adding a puppy or growth formula type diet to the regular diet during the nursing period. This must be done gradually as many dogs will get diarrhea if their diet is changed too abruptly. In most cases, the regular food is adequate as long as the amount is increased. A general vitamin and mineral supplement may be given daily.
The expectant mother should be given regular periods of controlled moderate exercise to promote good muscle strength and general condition. Frequent walks on a leash for fifteen to twenty minutes would be a good exercise for her. Prolonged strenuous exercise such as running to chase a ball and leaping in the air should be avoided. Pregnancy and whelping in the dog is an enjoyable experience for a pet owner. However, complications can occur. If you have any questions or problems, consult with your veterinarian.