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Caloric requirements for pregnant and nursing dogs

Updated: Sep 8

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.

I’m not sure there’s anything more important to a good start for our puppies than mom’s nutrition. If mom isn’t getting enough of and the right balance of nutrition from day 1 of nursing (and prenatally, but that’s another discussion we can have later), her puppies have already started life with a disadvantage.


“Blown” coats

I’m going to say something very controversial here: If your girls are regularly blowing coats after they have a litter, then you need to take a closer look at their calories and nutrition. It’s not normal, and you shouldn’t expect it. Most often, blown coats are caused by either insufficient calories and/or insufficient protein or other nutrients during pregnancy and/or nursing. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not hormonal. I plan a separate blog post to explain this further, but for now and for the sake of your dogs, please consider the possibility that I may be right. If they are losing their coats, please schedule a phone call with me and we can brainstorm to see where you might be able to help them.

Caloric requirements

A lot of breeders don’t understand the caloric requirements of a nursing mom. During the last trimester of pregnancy, her caloric needs are 2-3 times her normal caloric needs. During nursing her caloric needs can be as much as six times her normal caloric needs, depending on her litter size and metabolism. And why should we know—for some reason this is something I never see talked about and very few vets have substantive conversations with us about this. So let’s go over it now.


This is going to get a little math-y and just a little technical. I think it’s better if we can understand a little of the why before we learn the how—that allows us to make better decisions, troubleshoot if something isn’t perfect (and it never is), and make smarter changes and adjustments when we need to (and we always need to). I’ll give you a table at the end as a reference, and if you need to you can scroll down to that, but you will be a better breeder and serve your moms and puppies better if you understand even a little bit of this.


So whenever we are looking at the energy (calorie) requirements of a dog, we always start with something called “Resting Energy Requirement,” abbreviated as RER. That’s the basic rate at which your dog burns energy while doing absolutely nothing (resting). This includes basic functions, like breathing, basic brain functions, and heart functions. It’s the minimum calories your dog requires to stay alive at complete rest, with no other factors considered. It’s also known as basic metabolic rate.[1]


Like humans, dogs have different rates of metabolism, but we will go over the basic RER calculation for the hypothetical average dog. You may need to adjust according to your dog’s individual metabolism, but this is where you start.


Step 1: Calculate your dog’s RER

You do NOT need to know how to calculate RER—there are lots of RER calculators out there. Here are a few:

http://tools.servicedogsupport.org/rer_calculator/

https://www.petnutritionalliance.org/dog.php


Step 2: Use the RER to calculate your dog’s caloric requirement

Once you have the RER, you can use this chart to figure out the recommended daily caloric requirement for your dog.[2]


Caloric Requirements for Dogs


Step 3. Monitor your dog’s Body Condition Score

Again, all dogs have different metabolisms, and some breeds are known for either slower or faster metabolisms, but the RER chart is a good starting place. Start with this caloric amount and then use the Body Condition Score system to make sure your dog’s weight is optimal. You will also want to consider other factors, like coat and skin health, energy, etc., but your baseline should be the Body Condition Score of your dog.


This post describes how to evaluate Body Condition Score.


You should evaluate the BCS of pregnant and nursing dogs on a DAILY basis. The easiest way to do this is at mealtime. All that means is adding a habit, it doesn’t take any extra time. For short-coated dogs, you can assess BCS visually, and you’ll need a hands on evaluation for long-coated dogs. Even with a hands-on evaluation, it takes less than 2 seconds. Make this a habit, and don’t make any excuses.


Some examples

Here’s what that would look like for some sample weights, with average metabolisms an activity levels.


Stay empowered for your dogs!

So now that you know how to calculate guideline caloric requirements, you can start there and ensure you are on track by daily monitoring of body condition score to give your pups their best start possible and also to maintain the best health of your dams during pregnancy and nursing.

Typical small print common sense disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, and even if I were, you would still need a living, breathing vet to monitor your dogs. ALWAYS consult your vet when you have any questions (or even when you don’t!).


Learn more!

If you want more information about this topic, check out my Canine Nursing and Weaning course!

Need more help?

You are not alone! Please reach out to us and we will be HAPPY to work with you. Book with Ji or Hariamrit


References & notes

[1] Sherry Lynn Sanderson , BS, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN.“Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals.” In Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/nutritional-requirements-and-related-diseases-of-small-animals?query=resting%20energy%20requirement. Last accessed 1/4/2020.


[2] We always talk about “calories,” but the correct measurement used is "kilocalories," abbreviated as “kcal.” So when you see calories or kcal, they are almost always the same thing.


[3] It is important to note that the caloric RER requirements for dogs don’t increase with weight at a simple progression. That means that a 20 lb dog doesn’t simply have double the caloric requirements of a 10 lbs dog.