Feeding for a successful pregnancy starts long before conception. Ideal body condition is critical for normal litter size and normal delivery of the pups. Less than ideal body condition can lead to failure of conception, small litters, or even loss of the pregnancy. Too much condition or fat can lead to difficulty delivering the puppies without intervention. Many people make the mistake of feeding too much during pregnancy and not enough during lactation. For the first two thirds of the pregnancy, approximately 42 days, energy requirements do not increase. A normal maintenance diet, fed at maintenance levels, is adequate to maintain good body condition. During the last one third of the pregnancy, approximately 21 days, fetal size greatly increases and body weight of the bitch should increase 25 to 30% over her starting weight. The necessary increase in food corresponds to this gain, she should eat 25 to 30% more by whelping. Some dogs with large litters have difficulty taking in enough calories because of the space the puppies are taking up in the abdomen. It is important to switch to a premium performance or puppy formula at this point. Large breed puppy formulas with restricted protein, fat, and calcium levels are inappropriate for pregnancy and lactation. Once the puppies are delivered, the bitch should still be 5 to10% above her pre pregnancy body weight. If not, she may be too thin to provide adequate milk to the puppies. Dogs, unlike cats, can increase their feed intake to increase milk production. Feeding free choice is important during lactation. Also, plenty of fresh water is critical. During the third and fourth week of lactation, a large breed dog can require as much as six liters of water per day. Many people want to administer calcium supplements to their pregnant bitch. This not only does not help, it may harm. Excess calcium predisposes to eclampsia or milk fever, hypocalcemia and dystocia, a difficult birth. A high quality, energy dense diet is all that is needed to provide the nutrition for a successful pregnancy and postpartum period. If you want to administer a supplement, check with your veterinarian. Certain supplements should be avoided during pregnancy, while others are acceptable.
Now let’s see what there is to know about felines. It is important for a female cat, called “queen” to be fully mature, which is usually 1 ½ years to 2 years of age and in good body condition prior to becoming pregnant. Queens that are underweight or overweight can have difficulties conceiving, carrying the pregnancy to term, or delivering live kittens unassisted. Queens should eat a growth or premium performance diet throughout pregnancy. Energy density of the diet would ideally be between 4 and 5 kcal/g dry matter. Queens have increased energy needs beginning with conception, unlike dogs. Their energy intake should be 25 to 50% above maintenance levels, but some cats may require up to a 70% increase over maintenance. Fresh water is important during pregnancy and lactation. Many queens will refuse to leave the nesting box immediately following the birth of the kittens, so it may be necessary to take food and water to her. Peak lactation occurs at 3 to 4 weeks post partum. Peak food intake by the queen usually occurs at 6 to 7 weeks post-partum, but this is thought to be partially because of increasing food intake by the kittens. At weaning, usually 6-8 weeks of age, the diet can gradually be switched back to a maintenance formula. Diets that are extremely acidified to prevent urinary tract disease, such as prescription urinary formulas, are not ideal to feed to pregnant queens or kittens. The acidifier in the diet may interfere with normal bone development of the kittens in utero and after weaning. If you have a cat that is being treated for urinary tract problems, it would be highly recommended that she be spayed and not allowed to become pregnant.