Like humans and other animals, when a dog is pregnant, her mammary glands begin to swell and her nipples become sensitive. These are signs that she is getting ready to lactate or produce milk. Small drops of milk also heralds the whelping (giving birth) itself. The milk she produces will be the only source of food her puppies receive for their first four or five weeks of life. This can be very strenuous on your dog’s body and health.
Lactating dogs need to be provided with extra care and help so that they can better cope with nurturing their newborn pups all the way up till the weaning stage is reached. They need to be given additional nutrition so that she can maintain her health while providing enough milk for her pups. The extra care and nutrition should also help them through the anxiety often felt by lactating dogs.
Often, lactating dogs are anxious about their pups’ feeding and about people coming near their puppies. They will usually only trust people they have known for years, or people who were with them during the whelping. Too much anxiety can be bad for a lactating dog, so it is best that you keep them as comfortable and as happy as possible. This could mean limiting her and her puppies’ contact with the outside world for a couple of weeks.
Once a dog has whelped and the puppies have been cleaned, they should be brought to their mother’s nipples for feeding. You can help lactating dogs increase and maintain steady milk production by making sure of this immediate feeding, and making sure as many nipples are being sucked from as possible. This immediate feeding will help the dog’s mammary gland’s produce more milk since there is a demand for it.
After this initial feeding (and after every nursing session), check your dog’s nipples for redness. Make sure none of the nipples look sore or have small cuts or wounds. If any of her nipples become infected, the mammary gland can become inflamed, causing pain and a reduction in the production of milk. If this happens, many dog owners that you rub some petroleum jelly on the nipples. However, it is still recommended that you call your veterinarian and set up an appointment. Your veterinarian should be able to help assess the situation and figure out what is best to do for your lactating dog.
Make sure lactating dogs also get exercise and are not just lying down all day in between nursing sessions with her puppies. When the puppies are not feeding, take your dog and make sure she gets some exercise, even if it’s just a quick stroll outside. Get her walking often. You can also try and see if she’ll play with some of the puppies.
Finally, make sure lactating dogs are eating correctly all throughout lactation. Most veterinarians recommend that pet owners give lactating dogs smaller meals, but with a more frequent feeding schedule. All of which should amount up to three times the amount of food she usually eats. Be sure to monitor her food intake, especially during the third week, when puppies may begin trying to eat solid foods.
She should also have a bowl of fresh water next to her all the time. Dehydration can reduce the production of milk, which is not a good thing for lactating dogs. Usually meals composed of at least 30% protein (more is better) can help keep your pet’s health up. Many pet owners and veterinarians actually recommend the raw food diet for dogs when a female dog is lactating because this diet is high in protein content, and does give your dog a lot of its needed nutrients.