Taking Care of a Lactating Dog

When we found Kipo on the outskirts of Denver while going to my sister’s wedding rehearsal, she was so emaciated that it was hard to believe she would last the next couple of days. She was so scared and nearly bolted when we slowed down and opened the door to get her. It is only when I slowly walked towards her that I realized she couldn’t do so as she had a bruise on her right hind leg that could make you cringe. Her fur was matted, and her smell could make your stomach churn. 

I wasn’t sure we were prepared for a new dog as we had buried Roxy only two months before, but it is evident this dog needed help. The first vet we took her to took only her temperature and declined to take her in, claiming the vet was full. The second vet agreed to take care of her as long as we met the costs. Otherwise, she would have to be euthanized. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave her without the care she needed, and having lost our dog earlier, euthanizing wasn’t something we were about to consider. 

Over the next few days, I made time to check on her and take her a few treats. Needless to say, I was attached, especially as I found out she was about to be a mother in about a month. During one of these visits, my husband and I decided to adopt her after all. It was a spontaneous decision, and I was uncomfortable leaving the dog at the vet for too long. 

By the second week, the vet had realigned her broken heap and treated her bruise. He put her on pain relief, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics and informed us she was ready to go home. 

Since our dog Roxy had given birth before, we already had a whelping box, which had been very helpful. It was a plastic box because we had been advised it was the easiest to clean, which proved to be true. We bought more puppy training pads, rugs, blankets, and towels. We moved the box to our basement, where she could be least disturbed and had a waterproof heating pad placed beneath the box. 

While we needed to spend most of our time with Kipo as she was still shy and untrained, we made her sleep in the whelping box once in a while so that she could get used to it. 

Fifty-seven days into Kipo’s gestation, I noticed that she refused any food I offered her. She had also pulled most of the stuffing out of a chair I loved in a bid to set up her pups’ nesting area. Her temperature had dropped to 97ºF, and she was becoming restless. 

I let her spend the night in her whelping box, and the following day, I noticed the towel she was sleeping on had become damp. Her sides were also heaving, and she was stiffening her hind legs on each clamp. This was my second time helping a dog give birth, but I still felt that I needed my vet to help me out. Within 20 minutes of my vet’s arrival, Kipo gave birth to her first pup, and the others came soon after. 

From my previous experience caring for Roxy, I now had a better hand at caring for her, and I put together this guide on how you should care for a lactating dog

Tips for Caring for a Breastfeeding Dog

As is the case with humans, the few days or even weeks after your furry friend’s whelping can be stressful, especially if this is their first time. For starters, she may be unsure of how to nurse her litter. It is not uncommon for large breeds such as a lactating Labrador to get clumsy and lie on their pups. Make your nursing dog feel more relaxed and comfortable through the following tips:-

Feed her

During and immediately after the birthing process, your dog might not be interested in eating. Some will not even go out for a pee. As soon as she’s done whelping and has nursed her litter the first time, prepare a light but nourishing meal for her. Rather than a full meal, give her just half of her regular meal. Small meals spread throughout the first 12 hours after whelping will be easy on her digestive system. Her appetite should pick up after the first few days. 

Give her some privacy

Your dog is likely to be stressed by too many people handling or playing with her litter. She is likely also to become a little aggressive towards everybody. Reduce her stress by preparing a comfortable, secluded nursing station. While you do not have to set aside and close off the nursery completely, make sure it is free from too much traffic and is quiet. To avoid the potential spread of diseases to the pups, prevent many people from handling and touching then until they are at least four to five weeks old. 

If you are using a whelping box, ensure it is large enough to allow the new mom to turn around and lie on her side as her pups nurse. At the same time, it shouldn’t be too large that the pups will get too cold. 

Give her coat a cut

You might want to give the new mom a sanitary cut to ease her nursing sessions. Cut the hair around her hind legs, mammary glands, and tail. If you are uncertain about how to shave the hair off, ask your vet or groomer to do it for you, but ensure that these areas are always clean. Fortunately, it is effortless to groom and care for a large breed, such as a lactating greyhound. 

Check her teats

You will need to check the bitch’s teats daily for signs of discoloration, inflammation, or pain. The milk she produces should be of normal consistency and white. If it thickens or its color changes to pink, red, or yellow, consult your vet immediately. These changes could be a sign that she’s producing more milk than what the puppies need, which could lead to galactostasis. If not quickly dealt with, galactostasis could result in mastitis, a severe bacterial infection that could become fatal. 

In case the nipples become chapped or sore, ask your vet to recommend an antibiotic cream. In the meantime, applying some petroleum jelly on them will help soothe them. 

Look out for signs of eclampsia.

This is a condition that develops if your dog is unable to meet the calcium demand during lactation sufficiently. Small dog breeds are more predisposed to this condition despite calcium supplementation during pregnancy. The condition is likely to manifest within two to three weeks of lactation. It is characterized by aggression towards the pups, anxiety, dilated pupils, fever, muscle tremors, restlessness, and a painful gait. Consult your vet immediately when you suspect eclampsia. 

Take her temperature regularly.

You should take the new mom’s temperature daily for the next two weeks after whelping. A dog’s average temperature ranges from 101-103ºF but can be a degree higher a few days after whelping. If the temperature spikes and she appears lethargic or stops feeding, contact your vet immediately. 

Exercise her

While the new mom may prefer spending most of her time by her litter, exercise is essential for her physical and mental wellbeing. However, do not strap on her leash and expect to have your regular 30-minute walk. Five to 10 minutes of moderate exercise during her potty breaks will keep her muscles toned, and her blood well circulated. 

Feeding Tips for Lactating Dogs

Calving and the gestation process will have taken a toll on your furry friend’s body. Besides, lactation requires lots of energy along with vital nutrients such as calcium. You must ensure that what your dog meets these needs. To better understand your dog’s feeding needs, we divide the lactation period into three phases.

  1. Phase one: 2 weeks of whelping
  2. Phase two: 3rd to 5th week of whelping
  3. Phase three: The weaning period

Homemade diets for lactating dogs are not recommended as they are not AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) tested and certified. While they may be appealing to your sensibilities, they are rarely balanced and will not meet your pooch’s high nutritional needs. If you are determined to provide the new mom with home-cooked meals, consult with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist. Keep in mind that breeds such as greyhounds can quickly become obese, and they should be fed with certain foods

What to feed a nursing dog to increase its milk

Typically, your pooch should have no problem producing enough milk for her litter until they are weaned, especially if she’s being fed with a hypercaloric diet and is well hydrated. This does not mean that agalactia or little to no milk production is not common. The most common causes of this condition include:-

  • Dehydration – fluids are necessary for milk production. Lack of access to plenty of clean water will affect Fido’s milk production. 
  • Heavy infestation of worms or parasites – proper vaccination is critical during and after pregnancy. The presence of worms and parasites will not only take a toll on your dog’s body but also on her milk production. 
  • Infections on the mammary glands or uterus – mammary gland infection is called mastitis, while that of the uterus is referred to as metritis. Mastitis is characterized by thick milk with white or bloody clots. Metritis could cause loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and smelly discharge from the reproductive organs. Both conditions affect your dog’s milk supply. 
  • Premature whelping – the average gestation period for a dog is nine weeks. Premature puppies or preemies are those born before the 58th day of pregnancy. As the mother’s body is not yet attuned to the pup’s arrival, her milk production may not be optimal. 
  • Malnutrition – your dog’s nutritional demand is likely to spike one or two weeks after whelping. As mentioned, her diet should have high-calorie content, proteins, and fat. In the absence of these, she will have low milk production. 
  • Stress – your nursing dog will quickly become annoyed and agitated while lactating, causing stress. This is especially the case if she’s a new mom. If the nursing station is located in a busy, overcrowded, and noisy place, the new mom is likely to develop stress, which affects lactation. 
  • The body’s failure to release or respond to hormones – in the absence of certain hormones, there will be no milk production. These hormones are also responsible for the replenishing of the milk consumed by the nursing puppies. 

How to tell that your dog’s milk supply is not enough

The pups have to nurse multiple times throughout the day. Some of the signs that your pups are not adequately feeding are:-

– If they are constantly whining – pups that are always in need of being fed will cry or whine constantly. 

– If the pups are not gaining weight – your pups should gain weight almost every day. Their weight should have doubled after the first week, or something is wrong. 

– If the mother gets sick – if the pups’ mom develops a health condition, likely, she will not produce enough milk. 

– Presence of hogging pups – check the pups regularly as they suckle to ensure that they are fed equally and fairly. You might need to rotate them as they nurse so that the weaker ones also feed adequately. 

Increasing your dog’s milk supply

  1. Provide her with quality fluids.

The new mom is always in need of fluids to replace her outgoing milk supply. If she doesn’t fancy water, replace it with almond milk, chicken broth, goat milk, or lactose-free dairy milk. Your vet should advise you on whether you need to dilute any of these. 

2. Increase her feeding times and meal portions.

Although a little weight loss is normal immediately after whelping, a considerable drop is usually a sign that she’s not feeding enough. Low milk supply is also a sing of insufficient feeding. Consult your vet on how you can better her diet and adjust her meal portions accordingly.

3. Supplement her diet.

You should consider adding vitamin and mineral supplements to your dog’s diet. Calcium and phosphorous are will help the nursing mom replenish her rapidly depleting minerals and also help in the development of the pups’ bones. Whichever supplement you use, make sure it’s vetted and approved by your vet.

4. Provide her with nutritious treats

Rather than giving her cheap starch-filled treats, give the nursing mom nutritious treats such as dried beef, cheddar cheese, fresh fruits, or salmon treats. If these are unavailable, give her chicken wings, eggs, or meatballs.

5. Keep the whelping area clean.

Keep the whelping area clean and comfortable to minimize the chances of stress in your furry friend. Keep the area free of visitors. Once in a while, take her out for some fresh air and mental stimulation. Have her and her litter checked every once in a while. 

If none of these measures work, you’ll want to check in with your veterinary. He or she will advise you on whether you need to look for a natural milk replacement or recommend an alternative feeding method. 

Exercising tips for your Lactating dog

The first few weeks after birth, the puppies are not able to regulate their body temperature and depend on the mom. For this reason, your furry friend must stay with them for the majority of the time so that she can share her body heat with them. 

24 to 48 hours after whelping, the new mom can take a short walk during one of her bathroom breaks. However, the dog mom may be unwilling to leave her pups. If this happens, do not force her but encourage her to take a walk around the house where she’s within the pup’s earshot. The walks should be at least 10 to 15 minutes.  

You may also want to make sure that the puppies are kept warm through external heat sources such as a blanket, heat lamp, or by raising the room’s temperature by a few degrees. Have someone keep an eye on the pups while you walk their mom. 

Usually, the pups will start becoming active three to four weeks after birth. They will start exploring the room they are in and also play with each other. While you will still be walking the mom, encourage her to play with her pups by placing pup-friendly toys in the whelping box. These toys may include ropes and chew toys. If your yard is fenced in, you can take them outside as there is a variety of outdoor fun games. Playtimes with pups should always be supervised, and the toys should not be too small that they can be swallowed. 

Six to seven weeks after whelping, you may want to increase the frequency of these walks to a couple of times a day. At this age, the pups are more independent and can stay for more extended periods without the mom’s attendance. You can also re-introduce old activities such as running, swimming, and other intense activities. 

Keep in mind that these timings may vary from one dog to another or between different breeds. The form of exercise may also depend on your dog’s mode of delivery and the number of puppies she delivered. Therefore, always consult your vet about your specific dog. 

FAQs About Lactating Dogs

  1. Why is colostrum important for puppies?

Colostrum is the first milk the mom produces after giving birth. It is necessary for raising healthy puppies as it is antibody-rich. It provides the newborns with a host of immune boosters on their gastrointestinal tracts, oral cavities, the musculoskeletal systems, and the skin. Colostrum contains immunoglobulin and lactoferrin that fight infectious microbes. 

Puppies should feed on colostrum within the first 12 hours after birth. If this does not happen, the pups are predisposed to diseases and infections due to the absence of passive immunity.

2. What if my dog is not able to nurse her litter?

It’s not uncommon for dogs to die during labor or contract an illness that makes it impossible for her to feed her puppies. In some instances, the dam may reject her puppies, or in case she’s a new mom, she may not be able to act quickly enough while feeding her puppies. If not properly fed and taken care of, puppies could die within 48 hours.

Their hosts of commercially-prepared colostrum replacements and formulas meant for orphaned or rejected puppies. You will need to hold the pup horizontally, so that formula drops are not sucked into the lungs. Using a feeding bottle, introduce a few drops on the side of the pup’s mouth, and when he turns his mouth towards the nipple, help him latch so that he can suckle.

3. How often does my dog need to nurse her puppies?

Immediately after birth and the first few days, the pups will need to nurse every two hours, including at night. After several weeks, the interval between feeding times increases. By the time they are four to five weeks, they may be able to last for six to seven hours between suckling sessions.

4. Is there a special diet for my pregnant or nursing dog?

Pregnant and nursing dogs need a calorie-high diet so that they can meet the increased demand for energy during whelping and milk production. During pregnancy, your dog might need at least 50% more of their usual food intake. After birth, the nutritional requirements will increase dramatically. Indeed, your furry friend might need three times their regular food rations. Apart from being rich in protein, fat, and minerals, your dog’s diet should be highly digestible to maximize calorie absorption. 

5. After how long do I need to wean the puppies?

Four to five weeks after birth, the puppies can begin transitioning to solid foods. Feed them with high-quality dry kibble soaked in milk replacer or warm water. If they find this difficult to feed on, you might want to consider blending the food to a gruel-like consistency. 

Gradually decrease the amount of milk replacer or water until the pups can eat dry kibble. This should be at about eight to nine weeks. 

Your vet should be able to guide you on the exact feeding amounts for your pups and also advise you on a suitable feeding schedule. 

Proper nutrition of a pregnant then lactating dog mom is very important throughout the stages of the reproductive cycle to ensure the growth and good health of her newborn puppies.

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