Susan Thorpe-Vargas PhD
Feeding puppies, while not inherently different from feeding adult dogs, does have enough differences to make it a separate concern. For example, a puppy's initial feedings are in utero; i.e., inside the Momma dog. What she eats, how she utilizes her food and what she has stored in her tissues is all that a puppy will get prior to his birth. If there is something lacking in the mother's diet, it will be lacking in the puppy's diet until such time it has been whelped and subsequently weaned a few weeks later. In Utero If a bitch is already at her appropriate weight, no significant increase in the amount of food she needs will be necessary at first. She is not really eating for two (or seven or twelve, as the case may be) until approximately her 40th day of gestation. More than 75 percent and at least half of the puppies length is achieved during the next 15 days. During this last trimester, however, her energy requirements are about 1.5 those of her normal diet. Because of her ever-decreasing abdominal space it is better feed to her several small meals a day or even allow her to free feed so she is able to consume the required amount of food.
Litter size, nutritional status at the time of birth and lactation stage will determine the dietary requirements of the nursing bitch. Normal guidelines suggest feeding 1 1/2 times the normal amount the first week, twice the regular amount the second week, and 2 1/2 to 3 times the normal amount during the peak period of three to four weeks. If the mother is not fed an ample diet, not only will she lose an unexceptable amount of weight but her milk production will be diminished. Likewise, do not overlook the important role water plays during lactation. Inadequate fluid intake will also significantly decrease milk yield.
The most critical nutritional time period for the new puppy is the first 36 hours of its life. Immediately after whelping, the mother produces a special type of milk called colostrum. Composed of large proteins called immunoglobulins, ingestion of colostrum confers passive immunity to the newborn pups. However, the intestinal tract is only permeable to these large molecules for a limited time. Closure is the term used to describe the changes in the intestinal tract that prevents any further absorption of immunoglobins, and in puppies closure occurs after 72 hours. In addition, colostrum and follow-on nursing perform the added function of maintaining general hydration of the puppy. Sufficient nursing is necessary to prevent circulatory collapse in newborns.
Over the next several weeks, the primary activity of the puppies will be eating and sleeping. As they grow an develop, the nutritional composition of the mother's milk will change. Canines have the ability to concentrate iron in their milk at amounts far above their normal blood plasma level. This may indicate an increased need for this mineral during the first few weeks of life. After 4 weeks of age, nursing alone will not support normal puppy growth and development. Therefore, breeders should soak puppy kibble in water or goat's milk, mix it into a thin gruel and slightly warm the mixture in a microwave. Cow's milk is not recommended for dogs as they lack the enzyme needed to break down that milk protein. However, yogurt can be digested by dogs and contains many useful bacteria for a healthy gut. Initially, the puppies do not consume a lot of this semi-solid food, but by the time they get their first teeth (between 21 and 35 days) they derive a significant portion of their nutrition from solid food. The weaning process occurs over the next several weeks and is normally completed by 9 weeks.