Just like humans and other animals, when a female dog is pregnant, her mammary glands begin to swell and her nipples become sensitive. These are signs that she is getting ready to breastfeed or make milk. Small drops of milk also herald the birth itself. The milk she produces will be the only food source her puppies receive for their first four to five weeks of life. This can be very taxing on your dog’s body and health.
Nursing dogs need extra care and help so they can better cope with raising their newborn puppies until they reach the weaning stage. They need to be given additional nutrition so that she can maintain her health while providing enough milk for her puppies. Extra care and nutrition should also help them overcome the anxiety that lactating dogs often feel.
Nursing bitches are often anxious about feeding their puppies and about people who come near them. They will usually only trust people they have known for years or people who were with them during labor. Too much anxiety can be bad for a lactating dog, so it’s best to keep her as comfortable and happy as possible. This might mean limiting her and her pups’ contact with the outside world for a couple of weeks.
Once a bitch has given birth and the puppies have been cleaned, they must be brought to their mother’s teats for feeding. You can help lactating bitches increase and maintain a steady milk supply by ensuring this immediate feeding and ensuring that as many nipples as possible are suckled on. This immediate feeding will help the bitch’s mammary glands produce more milk as there is a demand for it.
After this initial feeding (and after each nursing session), check your dog’s nipples for redness. Make sure none of your nipples look sore or have small cuts or sores. If any of your nipples become infected, the mammary gland can become inflamed, causing pain and a reduction in milk production. If this happens, many dog owners will rub some Vaseline on their nipples. However, it is still recommended that you call your vet and make an appointment. Your vet should be able to help assess the situation and determine what is best to do for your lactating dog.
Make sure lactating bitches get exercise too and aren’t just lying down all day between nursing sessions with their puppies. When the puppies aren’t feeding, take your dog along and make sure he gets some exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk outside. Have him walk often. You can also try and see if he will play with some of the puppies.
Finally, make sure lactating bitches are eating properly throughout lactation. Most veterinarians recommend that pet owners feed lactating dogs smaller meals, but on a more frequent feeding schedule. All of which should add up to three times the amount of food you normally eat. Be sure to monitor their food intake, especially during the third week when the puppies may start trying to eat solid food.
You should also have a bowl of fresh water by your side at all times. Dehydration can reduce milk production, which is not good for lactating dogs. In general, meals made up of at least 30% protein (more is better) can help maintain your pet’s health. Many pet owners and veterinarians actually recommend the raw dog food diet when a dog is nursing because this diet is high in protein and gives your dog many of the nutrients she needs.