Feeding of the Breeding Bitch
( and Pro and Cons of Dietary Supplements)
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Home > Articles > Bulldog breeding > Care of the breeding bitch > Diet
Although nutrition has long been recognized as a vital component in bitch reproduction, recommendations are generally vague or contradictory. Nutrition not only has to be sufficient, but also optimal for reproduction (good-quality and well-balanced), to allow the mother to supply all essential nutrients for the developing puppies. Essential nutrients include amino acids (the building blocks for proteins), fatty acids (functional components of cellular membranes and the endocrine system), vitamins and minerals.

Over-nutrition or over-supplementation of these nutrients can be as harmful as nutrient deficiencies. Indeed, malnourishment from the pre-breeding phase until lactation may be prejudicial to the health of both the bitch and her pups, and is a major cause of neonatal puppy mortality. Malnourishment may be due not only to feeding insufficient amounts of food, but also to feeding poor-quality or unbalanced diets. It may be the cause of low conception rates and premature puppies, birth defects, labor difficulties, as well as incomplete mammary development. Many of these problems may also be encountered with overweight bitches.

Nutritional inadequacies may not show their effect until it is too late, i.e. once whelped. The bitch may appear thin and with inadequate body-fat reserves to support lactation. Her puppies may appear weak, lacking vitality, crying frequently, refusing to suckle and lacking coordination, a situation described as the "fading puppy syndrome".  The situation is usually rapidly complicated by bacterial and viral infections and "fading puppies" will generally die within 5 to 10 days. 

Ideally, dietary adjustments should be made approximately two weeks before breeding based on the bitch's overall nutritional status (if necessary, with the help of a simple blood test). The diet of the pregnant bitch should consist of 30% of good-quality and digestible meat and 20% of lipids (fat) mixed with the usual complement, which should contain high amounts of soluble carbohydrates and a low fiber content. In terms of quantity, the bitch's diet should be kept at maintenance level for the first four weeks as extreme weight gain would increase the risk of complications during parturition.

At the fifth week the food intake should be gradually increased to achieve a 25 to 50% increase by the time of whelping. Excess of meat products is not recommended, as it will reduce the intake of carbohydrates, possibly leading to hypoglycemia and stillbirths.

The benefits of dietary supplements is highly controversial. There is a lot of anecdotal (not scientific) evidence to support the use of folic acid in breeding bitches to prevent cleft palates and other birth defects. In humans, however, this nutrient is promoted during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in the foetus, a developmental disorder that is very rare in the dog. However, as this is one of those things that can't hurt, you may choose to follow the opinion of many experienced breeders and administer the nutrient in pill or capsule form. In that case it makes sense to start from the day of conception (some sources even recommend starting 6 weeks before they are due in heat).

Calcium was once recommended to prevent preeclampsia but more recent and consistent scientific evidence has since shown that daily calcium supplementation does not prevent eclampsia and may actually worsen it. Indeed, if the expectant bitch is on a quality diet, calcium supplementation is unnecessary and may, on the contrary, cause a deregulation of her natural metabolism to mobilize calcium from her bones once the lactation will initiate. Although lactation requires large amounts of calcium, the body of the lactating bitch naturally regulates the deposition and mobilization of calcium for milk production. If the bitch is supplemented with high levels of calcium during pregnancy, she will be unable to keep up with the metabolic demands which will suddenly and dramatically increase at the initiation of lactation, which may result in severe health complications.

Note that it is more complicated to define levels of vitamins, minerals or other nutrients in home-based diets than it is for commercially available premium food recommended for gestation and lactation.  Moreover, home-prepared meals may more easily vary over time. It is thus much more difficult to know if the dam receives enough calcium or on the contrary risks a calcium overdosing. Breeders not well-versed in dietetics may, therefore, consider switching to high-quality commercial food especially designed for the pregnant and lactating bitch, which contain the necessary levels of calcium and other dietary supplements and where calcium levels are constant and defined.


Nutritional Management of the Bitch
: Pre-breeding to Whelping By Russ L.Kelley, MS

The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch by Kathleen Hefner, DVM

The Dating Game, Part II: The Morning After by Lori Hunt, DVM
The Bulldog:
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
by John F. McGibbon
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