What to Feed Pregnant Dogs

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Nov. 17, 2023
A pregnant pup stands on the grass.

You’ve decided to breed your dog. She’s passed all the screenings for deformities and inheritable diseases, and is properly dewormed and up-to-date on her vaccines and other routine preventative care. Your vet has determined her healthy enough to proceed. 

Nutrition is a major cornerstone in human pregnancy, but what about in dogs? Is there a special food for pregnant dogs? What is the right weight for a pregnant dog who is also supporting lots of puppies?

Let’s discuss all you need to know about feeding your pregnant dog.

What Should Your Pregnant Dog Eat?

After your dog has been cleared to become pregnant, nutrition is the next most important consideration to help ensure that mom and pups all come through the process in top form. 

Malnutrition—overfeeding, underfeeding, and feeding your pup human food—contributes to many issues during pregnancy. This includes:

  • Low conception rates

  • Problems carrying a litter to term

  • Difficulties during labor

  • Improper mammary development

  • Inadequate or poor-quality milk

  • Poorly developed immune systems

  • Poor puppy development

  • Early death in puppies

The earlier you adjust your dog’s diet, the better. Good nutrition should start well before pregnancy.

Your dog should be eating high-quality food her entire life. If you have any doubts about the food you’re providing, it’s best to speak with your vet before your dog becomes pregnant.

When choosing good food for your pup, look for a high-quality protein, properly balanced performance commercial dog food. This food should be easily digestible and palatable, or your dog may decline to eat it.

A good dog food should contain at least 28% protein, 17% fat, soluble carbohydrates, and low fiber content. Calcium levels should be between 1 and 1.8%, and a phosphorous between 0.8%  and 1.6% helps to form those growing bones and support milk production. 

If you are feeding an appropriate diet, no additional supplements, food additives, or toppers need to be added. In fact, they may be harmful to the overall nutritional picture, resulting in birth defects, stillbirths, and low blood sugar. Even treats should be offered sparingly during this time.

How Much Should I Feed My Pregnant Dog?

Bumping up the calories dramatically for your pregnant dog is not the right approach. Dogs that are overweight at the time of delivery may actually be malnourished.

Malnourished animals are at higher risk of complications and puppy deaths. Your dog should be at a healthy, lean weight at the time of delivery. She should be well-exercised, and well-muscled.

Dogs that are in poor cardiovascular health are not going to have an easy delivery or healthy litter. This means that you will have to adjust throughout pregnancy to properly support both mom and her pups.

Malnourished animals are at higher risk of complications and puppy deaths. Your dog should be at a healthy, lean weight at the time of delivery.


If you are feeding a high-quality performance dog food at the time your dog becomes pregnant, you may only need to increase the amount slightly (10% or less) during the first five to six weeks of pregnancy. That is because the puppies are not rapidly growing at this stage—they’re busy forming into the tiny dogs you see at birth. 

Over the course of pregnancy and by the last three to four weeks, you will want to increase the amount of your dog’s food by about 15% to 25% by the time of delivery.

Many veterinarians recommend changing to (or blending in) a high-quality, well-balanced growth or lactation diet during this time to increase the number of calories.

Many females will start to eat less late in pregnancy because of the degree of abdominal distention they experience, so offering a higher-calorie food more frequently helps to combat this problem.

In the very late stages of pregnancy (the last week to 10 days), many veterinarians recommend free feeding your dog to allow her to have small meals whenever hungry.

The largest nutritional need for the mother comes after she has delivered the puppies. During this time, it’s critical and difficult to ensure that your dog is eating an adequate number of good calories—but don’t give her food toppers and table scraps.

Often a puppy formula will add calories, and top-dressing the food with a high calorie commercial dog food can also help. The occasional dog will need additional calorie or fat supplementation—though this should be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Vitamins and Dietary Supplements

If you are feeding your pup an appropriate diet, there is no need to add any additional vitamins or dietary supplements during pregnancy. In fact, these can be harmful and sometimes even fatal to her puppies.

An appropriate commercial dog food is the only food that is necessary. If you are unsure about your dog’s food, consult your veterinarian.


Throughout pregnancy, treats for your dog should be kept to a minimum and of a high-quality. Empty calories during this period of high nutritional need will not help mom or the puppies. Protein-based treats can help to round out her diet.

Give these only in small amounts so they don’t upset the balance of her current dog food.

How to Create a Meal Plan for Your Pregnant Dog

Create a meal plan for your dog with the assistance of your veterinarian. Understand that this plan is only a guideline and may need to be amended by your vet throughout your dog’s pregnancy.

You will want to know the starting weight and body condition score (BCS) of your dog. Your veterinarian can tell you what your dog’s score is. Ideally, you will want your pup to be a 4 or 5 out of 9.

If she is above or below this range, wait to breed her until she is at an appropriate weight and BCS.

You should expect that your dog will gain about 25% of her weight at the time of delivery. Her body condition score should stay similar. You will need to closely monitor her body condition score and weight after birth, as this is the most challenging nutritional period for the mother.

Many mother dogs will benefit from both free feeding and a puppy formula during this period. It's important for your dog to maintain her BCS. If she isn’t, speak with your veterinarian immediately.

For the first month of pregnancy, calculate the number of calories your dog is eating before she is bred and increase that amount by 10%. Your veterinarian can help you do this.

This will be about the amount to feed her for the first month, but you will want to be sure that she is maintaining her BCS.

During the second month of pregnancy, calories should gradually increase by about 25%. Your dog will gain weight during this period and should add approximately 25% of her pre-pregnancy weight.

In the last 10 days, if she does not want to eat anymore, it will likely be necessary to free feed her, allowing dog food to always be available. Your veterinarian may recommend transitioning to a puppy formula in the last few weeks.

After your dog delivers her puppies, calories will need to be carefully monitored so she has the strength to feed them all.

Many mother dogs will benefit from both free feeding and a puppy formula during this period. It's important for your dog to maintain her BCS. If she isn’t, speak with your veterinarian immediately.

Keep Track of Puppies’ Weight Gain

Monitoring weight gain in the puppies is also very important. Not gaining weight on schedule is often the very first sign that a puppy is getting into trouble, and should prompt an immediate phone call to your veterinarian.

Before the puppies are born, purchase a kitchen scale that weighs in grams. Measuring in ounces may be intuitive, but it is not accurate enough to be useful in the case of a newborn puppy. 

Weigh your newborn puppies twice per day from the time they are delivered until they are weaned. It’s not uncommon for pups to lose some weight during the initial 24 hours, but after that period, there should be a steady and constant weight gain.

Puppies should gain approximately 10% of their weight every day.

If you notice a puppy is underweight, notify your veterinarian. Even a 24-hour wait can mean the difference of saving a pup. This is an extremely important measurement, and you must be proactive.

Featured Image: olgagorovenko/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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