Before even considering your Saint, she should be on a high quality, balanced diet. That having been said, she has been bred and you are now hoping for the pitter-patter of puppy paws.
The gestation period for a dog is 63 days (9 weeks). During the first 4 weeks, the pups are not putting much demand on the mom. Her normal food amount and feeding schedule should be maintained.
Studies have shown that the rate of fetal reabsorption is higher in bitches overfed during this first part of pregnancy. From 4 weeks on (depending on litter size), the bitch will usually start to gain weight. Continue to feed the same high quality food she is used to – adjusting the amount week to week as needed to keep her in good body condition but not fat (see rib test).
It may also be necessary to divide her usual 2 meals a day into 3 or 4 as the pups take up more room. The most weight gain is usually seen during the 6th to 8th week. There is still no need to put her on a different food unless she is carrying a large litter and it is difficult for her to get enough calories in. She will probably be eating 10 to 50 percent more by her due date. In the old days, it was thought the best plan was to start feeding mom a puppy food. Back then with limited options for food this was about the only plan to up nutrition.
We now know the calcium in puppy food is much too high for a pregnant bitch and runs the real risk of causing eclampsia. I usually begin to transition into a“hotter” food the beginning of week 6 or 7. This will be a premium/super premium adult food with no more than 30% protein. This will be the food the bitch will be on while nursing. I am all for pampering the expectant mother, so small additions of cooked egg, liver, hamburger, etc. should not cause problems. Rely on the balanced nutrition of her chosen food and not the ‘this and that’ you decide she might need.
The nursing mom is under huge nutritional stress. Have her on an adult food with slightly higher protein (28 to 30 % percent). Many times these foods will be labeled for dogs that are active, under stress, pregnant, lactating, etc. Watch for diarrhea as this can lead to dehydration especially while nursing. Cooked hamburger and rice (half and half) is a good first step to help with diarrhea.
During the first few days, the new mom may not want to eat much. This is not uncommon and tempting her with some favorite treats may help. Sometimes even hand feeding is appreciated. A small addition of dry cat food by hand in the food usually works for me to entice mom. As a last resort, ask your vet about a Vitamin B injection to help stimulate her appetite. Mother Nature will side with the newborn pups over the needs of mom so you must be very aware of her condition. As the pups grow, the demand on mom will go from requiring one-half times her normal ration to possibly 3 plus times.
Overfeeding a nursing Saint is not too much of a concern if she has a normal sized litter. If she seems hungry – feed her. Act quickly if she begins to look less than robust. Adjust her portions and number of feedings to maintain her weight and condition. There is no need for a bitch to lose weight during lactation. It is up to the owner to monitor her and adjust her diet and feedings as needed.
Remember, the new mom will probably not want to leave her pups, so feeding her in the whelping room may be necessary for a few weeks. It may also turn out her normal schedule no longer works, possibly requiring free feeding. Since the nursery will be warm, fresh cool water should also be in the room at all times. I always add Puppy Gold to her diet (per label directions). This product is used mainly for nursing and weaning of pups but is ideal for maintaining good milk production and body condition in the bitch.
NEONATAL PUPPIES AND WEANING
It is the lucky breeder who has a brood bitch that has plenty of milk and is a good mom. In that case, your involvement in feeding is minimal. Due to the size difference of the mom and pups, I do not leave them together in the whelping box unsupervised. This not only prevents injury to a pup but allows me to insure each pup is nursing adequately. It is important that each pup nurse within the first 24 hours after birth. This is when the colostrum is present. Colostrom is different from normal milk in that it contains antibodies which are transferred to the pups that protect them from many diseases.
I begin a nursing schedule of every 3 to 4 hours. In a large litter, dividing up the pups works well to make sure they all nurse adequately – turning the mom over during feedings to reach all nipples. Nipples not nursed on will either dry up or become engorged – leading to mastitis. Guard against diarrhea in pups as they dehydrate quickly. It is uncommon for mom’s milk to be the problem and most likely the whelping box is too warm – keep the puppies area under 80 degrees. The time between feedings can be extended as the pups age. If a pup is quiet, warm, exhibiting active sleep, and has a round belly, they are probably well fed.
Don’t be too quick to make a mother nurse. She usually knows when the time is right. Also, don’t be bound to a length of time for each pup to nurse. As the pups age, moms naturally lengthen the intervals between nursings (wanting in the whelping box) and shorten the time (a couple minutes at times). If the pups are thriving – mom knows best. If all is not going well and supplemental feeding is required, I bottle feed using Puppy Gold. Bottle feeding is more time consuming than tube feeding but I feel the benefits both physical and psychological for the pup outweigh my extra time. Puppy Gold is a very elemental canine milk replacement, a product most like mom. Most canine milk replacements contain a lot of sugar. Goat’s milk or lamb replacement formula is used successfully and is more economical but its nutrition levels are balanced for herbivores, not carnivores. Hint: if Puppy Gold is to be used for bottle feeding, use it from the first as pups started on one of the sweeter replacements or goat/lamb milk are hard to switch over. Some pups do not take to the bottle but it is best to alternate all pups between the bottle and nursing on mom if possible.
I begin the weaning process at about 4 weeks old. I make the puppy mush using warm water and the dry dog food the pups will be eating after weaning, mixed with Puppy Gold (per directions). I feed 4 meals per day, alternating between mush for one feeding, nursing the next. Keep an eye on the mush eaters to make sure each is eating well. A slow learner may need a little extra mom time. When the weaning process begins, have water and dry food available for the pups at all times. Weaning is complete in a couple weeks but I allow mom to nurse as she wants – this makes the whole family happy and helps mom dry up more comfortably.
Susan West, Utah