6 Best Dog Foods for Nursing, Pregnant and Lactating Dogs

Best Dog Foods for Nursing, Pregnant and Lactating Dogs

Although proper nutrition is most crucial for a mother dog nursing new puppies, her dietary requirements during the last 3 to 4 weeks of the pregnancy are also essential. The puppies’ rapid growth during this stage increases the mother’s energy requirements between 25% and 50%, depending on the litter size. 

She needs Dietary DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This omega-3 fatty acid helps ensure puppies’ optimal neural and vision development before and immediately after birth. Feeding a high-quality, nutritionally complete, and balanced puppy formula in several meals daily or free choice during the last 3 to 4 weeks of gestation will help ensure a mama dog receives enough nutrition despite increasingly limited abdominal space for food and digestion.

Generally, nursing puppies eat as much as they need to, and their mothers feed them as much as possible. Ensuring optimal health for the mama dog is crucial. She will actually jeopardize her own health by depleting her nutritional resources to an unhealthy level if need be for the sake of helping her puppies grow. To ensure that puppies grow at the rate they should without sacrificing the good health of their mother, you should feed her a quality food formulated for nursing dogs.

According to the National Research Council, a canine nursing mother needs around two to four times the calories as an adult dog of the same size. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the nutrient profiles of the Association of American Feed Control Officials recommend that her food contain at least 22% protein and 8% fat.

Unfortunately, vegetables are very low in fat, protein, and calories but high in fiber, making your dog feel full. This isn’t desirable for nursing moms who need to ingest high-calorie, high-protein foods to produce milk. Lactation is considered the most nutritionally demanding life stage, with higher nutrient requirements than growth. 

The nutritional needs and milk production of mama dogs change over the first six weeks of nursing, peaking at about 3 to 4 weeks. Nursing mother dogs should be allowed free feeding or fed several times per day through the first 3 to 4 weeks after whelping to meet the higher energy demands of lactation. 

However, free-feeding might cause weight gain, which can harm both her and her litter. Weight gain should be monitored, and the food ration adjusted accordingly. After week six, milk production will decline as puppies start eating solid food.

The number of cups of food to feed your nursing mama dog is not set in stone. Several factors affect the caloric requirements of the lactating dog, some are listed below:

  • Litter size: The more puppies in the litter, the greater the nutrient requirements for milk production.
  • Breed size: Smaller breeds tend to have a more significant energy requirement per pound of body weight, requiring food with a greater caloric and nutrient content.
  • Temperament: The mood of the mother dog affects the number of calories she needs. A temperamental or nervous mama dog will expend more energy and have a higher caloric requirement.

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Dog Food Care reviewed the 8 Dog Foods listed below

Although a mother dog’s nutritional requirements increase tremendously during the last trimester of pregnancy, nutritional deficiencies are most likely to occur after birth. That is when her body must cope with the stress placed on it by the demands of lactation.

After reviewing many dog food brands for your nursing dog, Dog Food Care recommends those that stood out as best and informs you of the worst on the list below.

  • Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food Puppy Recipe
  • The Honest Kitchen Food Clusters Whole Grain Beef & Oat Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food 
  • Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food
  • Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food 
  • Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Salmon & Sweet Potato Formula Dry Dog Food
  • I and Love and You Naked Essentials Wet Dog Food – Grain Free and Canned, Lamb, 

Dog foods specifically formulated for puppies contain the nutrients to meet the needs of nursing mama dogs. The packaging of the dog foods listed above ranges from 2-pound to 40-pound bags, and breaking the prices down shows the average price per pound is $2.96. These recommendations include dog foods for lactating mothers of all breeds, from Toy Breeds like Yorkies to Giants Breeds like Great Danes.

Dog Food Care’s choice of top 6 dog foods for lactating dogs is listed below.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Best Overall
Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food - 12 lb. Bag

Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food - 12 lb. Bag

  • Real deboned chicken is the first ingredient
  • High levels of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat
  • DHA to support your puppy's brain development
10
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Best Whole-Grain
The Honest Kitchen Whole Food Clusters WBeef, Oat & Turkey Dry Food

The Honest Kitchen Whole Food Clusters WBeef, Oat & Turkey Dry Food

  • Made from high-quality, human-grade dog food
  • Contains muscle meat, liver and live probiotics
  • Minimally processed, cold-pressed kibble
9.9
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Best Value
Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food

Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food

  • Made from cage-free real chicken
  • Rich in amino acids to promote lean muscle mass
  • Highly digestible formula enhanced with prebiotics to promote a healthy gut
9.8
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Best for Puppies
Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Canine Recipe with Roasted Bison & Venison

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Canine Recipe with Roasted Bison & Venison

  • Recipe rich in nutrients and powerful superfoods
  • Omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat
  • 28% protein blend support healthy joints and bones
9.7
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Best for Lactating Dogs
Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Salmon & Sweet Potato | Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food | 24-lb. Bag

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Salmon & Sweet Potato | Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food | 24-lb. Bag

  • Fresh and delicious salmon is rich in omega fatty acids
  • Enhanced with vitamins and minerals for complete nutrition
  • Fiber-rich sweet potato promotes digestive health
9.6
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Best Wet Food
I and Love and You with Lamb Wet Dog Food

I and Love and You with Lamb Wet Dog Food

  • Grain-free wet dog food
  • Protein-packed real meat is always the first ingredient
  • Flaxseed oil, fish oil and sunflower oils all provide essential omega fatty acids
9.5
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Below are Dog Food Care’s top 6 recommendations for feeding your Lactating dog at its different life stages

Best Overall
1. Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food Puppy Recipe 

Merrick Pet Care was founded over 30 years ago in Garth Merrick’s family kitchen in Hereford, Texas. That’s when Garth began home-cooking food for his dog to ensure she was eating the most wholesome and nutritious food possible. Merrick Pet Care was founded in 1988. The company is a leading producer of natural and organic pet foods. Nestle Purina PetCare Company acquired Merrick Pet Care in a buyout agreement in 2015. Merrick’s foods are made in the USA.

Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food - 12 lb. Bag
10
  • Real deboned chicken is the first ingredient
  • High levels of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat
  • DHA to support your puppy's brain development

Serve your lactating mother dog a healthy plate with Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Dry Dog Food Puppy Recipe. The nutrients in this puppy formula are also beneficial for nursing mama dogs. This delicious dry food features real deboned chicken as the very first ingredient. It’s combined with essential vitamins and minerals for a complete and balanced diet that includes ancient grains such as quinoa to aid digestion. 

This dry dog food is developed with high levels of omega fatty acids to help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat, while glucosamine and chondroitin support hip and joint function. It is perfect for nursing mothers. Once the puppies are weaned, it will help puppies build healthy muscles and support eye and brain development. The high-calorie count is a bonus for boosting the mother’s energy.

Merrick Classic Puppy Recipe is a mid-priced dry dog food with exceptional quality.

  • First 5 Ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Barley, Oatmeal
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein 28% min, Crude Fat 16% min, Crude Fiber 3.5% Max
  • Calories: 406 kcal per 8-oz cup
  • Suitable for which dogs: All breeds, from the tiny Pomeranian to the massive Neapolitan Mastiff.
  • Feeding: Optimal feeding amounts may vary according to your pet’s temperament, activity level, breed size, and environment.
  • Key Benefit: Developed with high levels of omega fatty acids, DHA, glucosamine, and chondroitin to benefit lactating mothers and weaned puppies.
  • Price: $44.98 per 12-lb bag ($3.75-lb)

Best Whole Grain
2. The Honest Kitchen Food Clusters Whole Grain Beef & Oat Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food 

The Honest Kitchen was founded by Lucy Postins in 2002 in San Diego, CA, to help as many pets as possible get on the road to good health through good food. They produce a full line of Human Grade complete & balanced foods for pets, including dry, dehydrated, and wet foods.

The Honest Kitchen Whole Food Clusters WBeef, Oat & Turkey Dry Food
9.9
  • Made from high-quality, human-grade dog food
  • Contains muscle meat, liver and live probiotics
  • Minimally processed, cold-pressed kibble

The Honest Kitchen Food Clusters Whole Grain Beef & Oat Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food provides added nutrition and flavor to any mealtime. It contains clusters made from ranch-raised beef that’s been cold-pressed and dehydrated. This simple recipe is free of artificial flavors or preservatives, GMOs, gums, carrageenan, feed-grade ingredients, meat meals, or fillers.

The Honest Kitchen Whole Grain Chicken Recipe is a high-priced dog food with excellent quality.

  • First 5 Ingredients: Beef, Oats, Barley, Beef Liver, Turkey
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein 23% min, Crude Fat 13.5% min, Crude Fiber 5% Max
  • Calories: 422 kcal per 8-oz cup
  • Suitable for which dogs: All breeds, from the tiny Chinese Crested hairless doggy to the large Dogue de Bordeaux 
  • Feeding: Optimal feeding amounts may vary according to your pet’s temperament, activity level, breed size, and environment.
  • Key Benefit: Dehydrated in order to hold the nutrients, taste, and smell of the honest ingredients
  • Price: $89.99 per 20-lb bag ($4.50-lb)

Best Value
3. Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food 

Diamond Foods were established in Meta, Missouri in 1970. All dry foods are manufactured at Diamond’s company-owned plants in South Carolina, Arkansas, California, and Missouri. 

Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Real Chicken Recipe High Protein Dry Dog Food
9.8
  • Made from cage-free real chicken
  • Rich in amino acids to promote lean muscle mass
  • Highly digestible formula enhanced with prebiotics to promote a healthy gut

Help your mama dog provide her puppies with milk of optimal quality. This Diamond Naturals formula offers superior nutrition for lactating mothers and gets weaned puppies off to a healthy start. Diamond Naturals Small & Medium Breed Puppy Formula Dry Dog Food is enhanced with superfoods and guaranteed probiotics to support your growing puppies’ development and the lactating mother’s overall health.

Diamond Naturals Small & Medium Breed Puppy Formula Dry Dog Food is a low-priced dry dog food with good quality.

  • First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Meal, Ground White Rice, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), Cracked Pearled Barley
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein 32% min, Crude Fat 22% min, Crude Fiber 5% Max
  • Calories: 453 kcal per 8-oz cup
  • Suitable for which dogs: Toy breeds like the Havanese, small/medium like the Tibetan Terrier, and large dogs like the Siberian Husky.
  • Feeding: Optimal feeding amounts may vary according to your pet’s temperament, activity level, breed size, and environment.
  • Key Benefit: High protein, fat, and calorie levels are ideal for supporting the lactating mother dog’s energy.
  • Price: $52.99 per 20-lb bag ($1.32-lb)

Best for Puppies
4. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food 

This product is formulated with novel proteins, including buffalo and bison. This grain-free recipe includes peas and sweet potatoes that deliver the highly-digestible energy a lactating mother dog needs. And also natural antioxidant support from real fruits and vegetables and dried chicory root for prebiotic support and healthy digestion. Essential minerals are chelated with amino acids to optimize their absorption and ensure maximum benefit in milk production.

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Canine Grain-Free Recipe with Roasted Bison and Venison Dry Dog Food for Puppies, Made with High Protein from Real Meat and Guaranteed Nutrients and Probiotics 14lb
9.7
  • Recipe rich in nutrients and powerful superfoods
  • Omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat
  • 28% protein blend support healthy joints and bones

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food is a low-priced dog food with excellent quality.

  • First 5 Ingredients: Water Buffalo, Lamb Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Egg Product, Pea Protein
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein 28% min, Crude Fat 17% min, Crude Fiber 5% Max
  • Calories: 415 kcal per 8-oz cup
  • Suitable for which dogs: All size dogs, including small dogs like Miniature Schnauzers, medium dogs like Boxers, and large breeds like Doberman Pinschers.
  • Feeding: Optimal feeding amounts may vary according to your pet’s temperament, activity level, breed size, and environment.
  • Key Benefit: High protein percentage with the first two ingredients being real meat benefit lactating mother dogs during gestation, lactation, and growth.
  • Price: $55.99 per 28-lb bag ($2.00-lb)

Best for Lactating Dogs
5. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Salmon & Sweet Potato Formula Dry Dog Food

A partnership between Smucker and Nexus Capital Management markets the Natural Balance Brand, owned by Nexus Capital Management L.P., Established in 1989. Natural Balance is based in Pacoima, California, United States.

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Salmon & Sweet Potato | Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food | 24-lb. Bag
9.6
  • Fresh and delicious salmon is rich in omega fatty acids
  • Enhanced with vitamins and minerals for complete nutrition
  • Fiber-rich sweet potato promotes digestive health

Ensure that your lactating mother dog is constantly feeling great with Natural Balance LID Salmon & Sweet Potato Formula Dry Dog Food. This limited-ingredient dry food for dogs features real salmon as the first ingredient and sweet potatoes as an easily digestible source of carbohydrates. It is produced in the U.S.A. using the world’s finest ingredients. It does not contain added peas, pea protein, lentils, legumes, corn, wheat, or soy.

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet is a mid-priced dog food with good quality. 

  • First 5 Ingredients: Salmon, Menhaden Fish Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Tapioca Starch, Potatoes
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein 24% min, Crude Fat 10% min, Crude Fiber 4.5% Max
  • Calories: 373 kcal per 8-oz cup
  • Suitable for which dogs: All breeds, from the tiny Brussels Griffon to the massive Olde English Sheepdog
  • Feeding: Optimal feeding amounts may vary according to your pet’s temperament, activity level, breed size, and environment.
  • Key Benefit: Crafted to provide quality nutrition for lactating dogs, featuring real salmon as the number 1 ingredient.
  • Price: $62.98 per 24-lb bag ($2.62-lb)

Best Wet Food
6. I and Love and You Naked Essentials Wet Dog Food – Grain Free and Canned, Lamb

I and Love and You, a Boulder-based natural pet care brand whose products are formulated by a holistic veterinarian, officially launched into 26 Rocky Mountain region Whole Foods Market stores on Aug. 27, 2012. Led by CEO and natural pet product pioneer Marty Grosjean, “I and love and you” was co-founded in 2012 by Brendan Synnott, founder of Bear Naked granola and EVOL burritos; Chris Bentley, co-founder of Aspen Pet, and Steve Ball, former brand manager at Nestle, General Mills, and Small Planet Foods.

I and love and you Naked Essentials Wet Dog Food - Grain Free and Canned, Lamb, 13-Ounce, Pack of 12 Cans
9.5
  • Grain-free wet dog food
  • Protein-packed real meat is always the first ingredient
  • Flaxseed oil, fish oil and sunflower oils all provide essential omega fatty acids

I and Love and You gives your pet the optimal combination of complete, whole-food nutrition and premium ingredients with their Lambarama Stew Grain-Free Canned Dog Food. Whether your furry friend is just a pup or already gray in the muzzle, this high-protein meal is perfect for all breeds and life stages. From newly weaned puppies to seniors in their golden years and even pregnant and lactating mama dogs. It’s formulated by holistic veterinarians, with real lamb as the first ingredient.

I and Love and You is a grain-free canned dog food using a significant amount of named meats as its dominant source of animal protein. This canned dog food is of exceptional quality and is highly recommended for Nursing dogs and young puppies after weaning.

  • First 5 Ingredients: Lamb, Lamb Broth, Vegetable Broth, Lamb Liver, Dried Egg Whites
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein 8% min, Crude Fat 4% min, Crude Fiber 1% Max
  • Calories: 382 kcal per 8-oz cup
  • Suitable for which dogs: All Breeds and all life stages, from Papillons to St.Bernards.
  • Feeding: Optimal feeding amounts may vary according to your pet’s temperament, activity level, breed size, and environment.
  • Key Benefit: Formulated by holistic veterinarians, this delicious grain-free stew is high in protein and allergy-friendly with real lamb as the first ingredient.
  • Price: $36.87 for 12 x 13-oz cans ($3.07 can)

What are the facts that you should know about dog foods for Nursing Dogs?

Lactating dogs require a highly digestible, energy- and nutrient-rich diet (e.g., puppy formula) to meet milk production demands and maintain their own body condition.

  • Milk production peaks about 3 to 4 weeks after whelping.
  • Energy requirements increase steadily, peaking at two to four times pre-breeding maintenance levels.
  • Feeding several times per day or free choice during the first 3 to 4 weeks after whelping help meet the higher energy demands of lactation.
  • Milk production will begin to decline as puppies start eating solid food.

Adequate water is essential: A German shepherd with six puppies can easily produce up to 2 liters of milk each day. A nursing mother dog can produce as much milk as a cow at peak lactation. This is why vets recommend keeping plenty of fresh water available for nursing mothers. An 80-pound nursing dog may need up to 6 liters of fresh water per day.

What Should You Feed a Picky Eating Nursing Dog to Help It Gain Weight?

Nursing dogs will risk their own health to feed their puppies. Therefore, owners of lactating dogs have to ensure the mama dogs get the necessary proteins and fat. It can be quite challenging if the nursing dog is a picky eater. However, this is one time when you can spoil your precious pup with fattening treats.

  • According to the American Kennel Club, many breeders encourage food intake by offering highly palatable products. Some ideas are listed below.
  • Ice cream gives lactating dogs plenty of calcium, and the sugar will provide them with an energy boost. At this point, the calcium will also help her produce her milk. 
  • Homemade mixtures: Mix one can of evaporated milk, one can of water, three egg yolks and one-quarter cup of Karo syrup; heat, then let cool.
  • Puppy milk replacers are powder milk supplements containing probiotics that aid pregnant or nursing mothers in maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Eggs (hard-boiled or scrambled) mixed with a spoon of plain yogurt make an excellent snack to help dogs gain weight.
  • Peanut Butter – Providing nutrients, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. It’s also a good source of folic acid for cell growth and magnesium to assist cells in metabolizing B complex vitamins.

Important Note: If you overdo this, you can do more harm than good. Remember, you can love your mama dog to death! Keep a tight control when dishing out these treats to avoid it becoming a habit that could cause obesity. 

What is the feeding guide for Nursing Dogs?

Each lactating mother is unique, and owners should calculate the amount of food to keep the mama dogs healthy while providing optimal nutrition to the puppies they feed. No guide on the back of a dog food bag can tell you how much to feed your nursing canine companion. The bag printers base their feeding guides on weight, but what about your dog’s activity level, metabolism, and overall health.

As a rule of thumb, you should increase a nursing dog’s food intake by 25% per puppy at peak lactation, above what she usually requires to maintain her body weight. 

For example, if your nursing dog requires typically two cups of dog food to maintain her body weight, and now she has a litter of six pups, do this:

Divide the 2 cups by 25%, which equals one-half cup for each of the 6 puppies. That gives you 3 cups to add to the usual maintenance portions you fed the nursing mother before the pregnancy. Thus you should now feed her 5 cups in amounts spread throughout the day. 

There is another concern when feeding a lactating dog. The nutritional requirements for a nursing dog vary over the 6-week lactation period, peeking in weeks three and four. Some advisors suggest you follow the table below, basing the number of cups of food on the regular maintenance diet and increasing it as shown below.

Energy Requirements of Lactating Dogs in the Weeks After Giving Birth 

Week 1 and 2

Double the nutrition provided for health maintenance of adult dogs

Week 3 and 4

Three times the nutrition provided for health maintenance of adult dogs

Week 5 and 6

Double the nutrition provided for health maintenance of adult dogs

After the sixth week, your mama dog will begin weaning the pups. During this time you should watch her weight. If she loses too much weight, feed her a diet containing more fat, or spoil her with a few treats. However, don’t let that become a habit because obesity would be the last thing you’d want to cause, right? 

Is It Safe For Nursing Dogs To Eat Homemade Food?

Although high-quality commercial dog foods contain the necessary nutrition for lactating dogs, some dog owners choose to feed them homemade food. However, nutritional needs must be met to ensure both mothers and puppies receive optimal nutrition.

Below is an example of a diet for pregnant and nursing dogs.

  • About 65-75% raw meaty bones, like chicken wings, oxtail, or rabbit.
  • About 15-20% alternative meat sources, like cows cheeks, pig’s intestine, whatever game is available, and the occasional raw fish (whole).
  • About 5% organ meat, especially liver, for vitamins and antioxidants
  • About 5% fresh leafy vegetables (like kale and pumpkin), blended to a liquid and supplemented with 1 tsp brewer’s yeast (Vitamins B), 1 tbsp vegetable oil (vitamin E), a raw egg yolk (extra vitamins, antioxidants, and protein), and 1 tbsp yogurt (probiotics). If your dog is not already on a natural diet, and if she is not interested in the vegetable mixture, you can add the liver, which will give it a strong smell that dogs love.

Assume that your dog will be eating about 1/5 of her body weight per week, but some pregnant dogs can be fed free-choice and not gain excessive weight. The only way to monitor this is to weigh her every week for a couple of months when she is pregnant.

Once the puppies are born, continue feeding the mother the natural diet that she is used to. She will probably start eating a lot more during early lactation and convert almost all of the food into milk for her pups.

When the puppies are about a month old, the mother’s milk production will decrease, and you can start feeding her less. You will still need more food, though, since the puppies will begin eating solid food around this time.

Enjoy this time, and remember, your mama dog and her puppies depend on you for optimal health and to feed them the best dog foods.

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Sarah Brady

Sarah Brady is an animal lover and the proud dog-mom of a Golden Retriever named Brody and an Italian Greyhound named Jessup. Unfortunately, Jessup developed serious allergies to many different types of dog foods and ingredients when she was just a puppy. Meanwhile, Brody could eat seemingly anything and carry on as healthy as could be. Sarah spent hours of time researching and testing different foods and brands before finding something that worked for little Jessup. She wants Dog Food Care to simplify this experience for future dog-parents who face food allergy or tolerance issues of their own.