Lactation in dogs is the process where the mother dog produces milk for her puppies. The milk from the bitch offers the complete start for the healthy growth and development of your pet's newly born puppies.
This lactation or nursing process is when milk is secreted from a mother's mammary glands to provide nutrition for her young, an amazing and beautiful process.
Newborn puppies have demanding nutritional requirements as they grow and develop at such rapid rates. In fact, puppies have normally doubled in weight by the time they are 10 days old.
Nursing dogs have to fulfill these high nutritional demands of an entire litter and so as you can imagine, they need a healthy balanced diet and ideally should be eating between two and three times more than they would normally.
Nursing dogs also require a good deal of fresh water and should drink more than usual during lactation.
The first meal that a new litter receives after being born is Colostrum which is the first milk that is produced by a lactating mother dog after she has undergone labor.
This type of milk is important for young puppies as it is full of anti-bodies and the mother's natural immunities which help guard against illness and infection until the puppies own immune systems start to develop.
It is also the most nutritionally suited food for the dietary and digestive requirements of the newborn pups. After about 2-3 days, the mother's milk will switch to a more mature milk which is more plentiful in calories, but contains none of the same immune elements as the colostrum.
This mature milk will supply the new puppies with all their dietary requirements for the next 5-6 weeks, after which they will move on to a more normal dog diet of soft puppy food that will help to wean them off their mother's milk.
At this stage they will nurse less and less until they are completely weaned off mother's milk.
Some of the main problems that can occur with bitches that are lactating include:
Lactation Depression - dysgalactia
This is the most common lactation problem in dogs and it frequently happens without any known cause. Lactation depression occurs is when the mammary glands are operating, but they are unable to produce an adequate supply of milk to fulfill the nutritional requirements of the litter.
Signs that the mother may not be producing enough milk include puppies pulling at the teats or crying more than usual. You may also discover that the litter does not nurse for continuous lengths of time, but that they still seem hungry. Monitoring weight gains in the litter is the best way to tell if they are getting enough milk because lactation depression often contributes to stunted growth and reduced weight gains.
Lactation failure - agalactia
Lactation failure comes about when no milk is produced by the mother's mammary glands so the puppies don't receive any nourishment and they will cry endlessly and fail to increase in weight. This is a serious condition and the pups will soon die if action is not taken quickly.
Bottle feeding will be necessary until the problem is resolved, or until the litter can be weaned onto solid foods. But don't forget there is no proper substitute for mother's milk especially at the very beginning of nursing.
This condition occurs when milk is produced in sufficient quantity but lacks body and some of the nutrients required for the pups' growing demands.
Lactation is a natural process, but when things fail, it helps to know that the natural ingredients of herbal and homeopathic remedies can assist to restore balance and help stimulate the production of milk.
Milk Thistle is an excellent tonic herb that helps prompt the production of milk from nursing mothers while also supporting the liver therefore reducing the amount of toxins passed through the milk to the litter.
Another recommenced herb for lactation is Goat's Rue which also helps promote milk production as well as the steady flow for milk. It is also an effective at guarding against illness and infections and can help prevent bacterial infections such as mastitis in nursing pets.
Fennel and Borage are also useful in both the production of milk and the recovery process after birth. Both these herbal ingredients help with digestive functioning and bowel regulation, while Borage has excellent anti-inflammatory properties to assist with recovery.
Tips for lactating and nursing pets
It is critical that each puppy or kitten receives their fair share of colostrum so keep an eye on the smaller, less dominant ones in the litter and make sure they get their turn.
The most important thing you can do for your lactating pet is to provide them with a diet containing sufficient calories and nutrients as well as a constant supply of fresh water.
Drinking will also help to encourage milk production, and it's vital for her to be constantly replacing lost fluids.
Calcium supplements are sometimes recommended for nursing mothers; however, it is important to discuss correct dosages with your vet before hand.
If the mother is unable to feed for some reason, you will need to hand-raise the kittens or puppies yourself. Newborns require frequent feedings with vet-recommended milk formula, so be prepared for sleepless nights and lots of work
Dogs generally make great moms and tend to have very strong maternal instincts. Do not feel offended if your beloved and loyal pet tries to snap, growl or hiss at you for trying to touch her litter, she is only doing her job.
Keep a close eye on the progress of the puppies. Those that cry continuously are either hungry or cold and you may need to step in to help. Remember that if the pups fail to gain weight or show signs of hunger, you may need to determine if there are any lactation problems and address them swiftly.
While keeping an eye on the new litter is important, it is also important to give your nursing pet some space. Over-crowding and too much interference can cause the mother to become stressed.