Caring for a Pregnant Dog: How You Can Help

Knowing the appropriate feeding schedule for your pregnant dog will help keep her healthy and comfortable.

In order for your dog to give birth to healthy puppies, you need to feed her a high-quality diet. By: tambako

Are you planning on breeding from your female dog?

Whether or not it’s right to breed from a pet dog would take up a whole article in itself. For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’ve carefully weighed all the pros and cons, and there’s a compelling reason — financial gain doesn’t count — to have a litter.

When mating is successful, suddenly you’re responsible for not just the dog but also her unborn puppies. What’s even more sobering is that your actions during her pregnancy can make a big difference in her health and the birth itself.

Definitive Pregnancy

Matings are no guarantee of pregnancy. She may have “done the deed,” but is she pregnant?

You need to be patient to find out — it’s only around 28 days later that you can get a definitive answer. Before this, there are no reliable physical changes that give the game away. Indeed, the symptoms of false pregnancy have fooled many a hopeful would-be puppy parent, only to leave them disappointed.

The options for confirming pregnancy are:

  • Feeling her belly: The best window of opportunity is between days 28 and 35 after the mating. In lean females, the pregnancy a veterinarian can feel is when the womb has a “string of pearls,” with the developing fetuses inside.
  • Ultrasound scan: From day 28, the puppies’ heartbeats can be seen on a scan, which is confirmation of live fetuses.
  • Blood test: Again, day 28 is the magic number, with a positive pregnancy blood test meaning puppies. However, there is a slim chance of a false negative result if she’s carrying only 1–2 pups.
By day 28 of your dog’s pregnancy, the puppies’ heartbeat can be seen on an ultrasound scan. By: Kevin Timothy

Care of the Mother-to-Be

Your care makes a material difference to the health of the mother and pups. Here are some helpful tips you’ll want to know:

  • Most of the fetal growth takes place in the last 2 weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, the mother does not need a whole lot of extra calories early on.
  • Do not give a calcium supplement during pregnancy because this increases the risk of eclampsia (milk fever).
  • It’s a bad idea to overfeed the mother during pregnancy. To do so increases the chance of a difficult birth.

What to Feed

If you don’t already offer it, switch to a good-quality, balanced adult food. For the first two-thirds of the pregnancy (up to about 6 weeks), the basis of her diet is a premium adult food. Remember to keep an eye on her figure and avoid overfeeding.

By week 4 and 5, start introducing a good-quality puppy food to her diet. The extra protein in puppy food is the perfect answer to making sure Mom gets all the nutrition she needs for healthy pups. Take several days, mixing in small amounts, to gradually change her over.

Then, by week 6 and onward, feed her only puppy food. Simple as that. Rest easy that a good food gives all the nutrition she needs.

Frequency of Feeding

Indeed, for the first 3 weeks, feed at her regular mealtimes. The puppies are tiny and the womb small, so you don’t need to load Mom up with calories or frequent meals.

In the middle 3 weeks, you might want to go from 1–2 meals a day to 2–3 meals a day, as the womb starts to take up more room in her belly.

In the final 2 weeks, you may need to feed her little and often (such as every 3–4 hours) as the large womb squashes her stomach.

This amazing dog delivered 5 puppies on her own after being rescued:

Deworming and Preventative Care

Ideally, vaccinate the mother before pregnancy so she passes immunity onto her litter. However, if the pregnancy was a surprise, avoid vaccinating while she’s carrying pups.

The gold standard for worming is to treat her with fenbendazole daily from day 40 until 2 weeks after whelping. This vastly reduces the number of roundworm eggs that pass from the mother to the pups via the placentas or milk.

However, be aware that not all deworms or parasite products are safe during pregnancy. Before reaching for the product you normally give her, double-check with the vet that it’s safe for expectant mums.

Final Preparations

In the final 3 weeks, consider the risk of herpes virus to the unborn puppies. This virus can cause fetal death, so some experts advise isolating Mom during this last bit of pregnancy. Now is also the time to introduce Mom to the whelping box so she becomes familiar with it ahead of the big day.

All of which makes having puppies sound easy. But remember: Puppies are for life, so they’re a delight but also a big responsibility.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Aug. 18, 2017.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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