Hariamrit Khalsa contributed to this post.
Common sense disclaimer: As with everything else on this blog, it’s critical to seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian, preferably one that is board certified in theriogenology (reproductive science) for reproductive matters. This website, its blog, and its courses are NOT designed nor intended to replace the need for a qualified veterinarian, but instead to help educate people to to work optimally with their veterinarians. All recommendations should be reviewed with qualified professionals, such as a board certified reproductive veterinarian, prior to implementation in a breeding program. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian. Readers assume all risks associated with use of material on this site. More here.
This post is mainly geared toward pregnant bitches or dams that have just whelped. I have a slightly different philosophy about dogs that are picky eaters in general, but that’s a separate post.
This post addresses dogs that have morning sickness, generally become picky during pregnancy, or need to eat more after whelping. I do NOT recommend these strategies for long term feeding or non-pregnant or non-lactating dogs who need a boost. They are not nutritionally complete for more than a temporary stopgap to keep calories coming in.
I have a sort of ”escalation” of tactics I use to try to get them to eat. My escalation list starts with things that are most easy, less likely to cause GI distress, and have as much nutritional value as possible. For example, some people use a “pudding” recipe based on commercial packaged pudding. That gives lots of carbs and calories, but it is pretty much nutritionally devoid and often causes diarrhea, so it’s one of my last resorts.
1. Seasonings. My first go-to is a pet food seasoning. We use a brand that is whole, real freeze-dried food ONLY, and includes only meat and vegetables. Some seasonings are mostly wheat or other processed by-products, which I try to avoid. We sprinkle this on dry. If they tend to eat the seasonings off then ignore the rest of the food, we just mix them in a little more.
1b. If the dry seasonings don’t work, we make a little “broth.” Sprinkle the seasonings on top and add a little hot water. The hot water makes more of an aroma, which often is enough to entice the. Plus it coats the food well.
2. Low sodium broth. We will often add some low sodium broth to their food. Warm is more enticing than cold. This has a little less nutrition than the seasonings And more sodium (even if low sodium) so we try this second.
3. Oatmeal. Oatmeal is a great food for some bitches. It’s high in carbs (which are critical for breeding dogs—some fertility issues can be traced to diets that are too high in protein and thus too low in carbs, not a problem for most dogs normally, but can be for breeding dogs), and for some it’s just bland enough that they can eat without nausea. I like to simply use quick oats, add some hot water and feed it after a few mintues. You can cook it or microwave it, but it can be fed raw once much of the water has been absorbed, which happens after just a few minutes of adding hot water.
4. Scrambled eggs. This is a staple supplementary food for our breeding dogs anyway. Highly nutritious. I don’t recommend a lot of entirely egg meals, but they can be used as a mix-in or topper.
5. Myra Savant Harris’ Puppy Miracle Formula. I like this more for puppies, but it can be used the same way as broth. Nutritionally, it ranks really high, but I don’t use it a lot because it’s simply more work and I usually have enough on my plate, so I’ll try easier options first.
6. Cat food. This was a suggestion from my repro vet that has worked great. It’s a little lower on the list because it’s rich and can cause some tummy upset and loose stool. Be sure to use a quality food. I try dry food first. If that’s not enough, I will open a can of cat food and make a nice “gravy.” In a pinch, if I really can’t get a girl to eat, I will feed out a whole can, but too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing anymore. 7. Hills A/D. Lots of downsides to this food, from my personal concerns about manufacture quality due to excessive recalls, to expense, to needing a prescription for it. The ingredients list quite literally makes me cringe. And it’s not suitable for long-term feeding. It’s liver-based (which is what makes it so enticing to many dogs), but liver needs to be fed sparingly (less than 10% of a dog’s basic calorie needs) because it can cause vitamin A toxicity (hence the need for a prescription). But it does work as a good last resort. If I get to this number on the list and a dog doesn’t eat A/D after a day or so, it’s time to see the vet.
8. The pudding recipe. I know it’s a favorite, but it is the last choice based on my criteria. It’s not that enticing—I’ve yet to have a bitch that loves this. It takes work to prepare—lots of cooking. The ingredients are horrific to me. And it causes diarrhea very easily. If you don't buy the right kind, then the additives can even cause diarrhea in the puppies. The upside, and the reason I think it’s popular with some, is that it’s high in carbs, which is great for pregnant and nursing girls. But I think there are better, more nutritious and easier ways to entice eating and get carbs and calories in. This is firmly in the last resort category for me.
Any of these strategies can be mixed! Sometimes what works is an oatmeal base, with a scrambled egg and some seasonings mixed in. You know your girls and what they like, so get creative. Bon appetite!
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