Naturally Rearing Dogs & The Pregnant Bitch

Natural Rearing And Nutrition For The Pregnant Bitch

As a long time Natural Rearing breeder/exhibitor of Boston Terriers and a veterinary naturopath, I often get asked about proper diet/nutrition for pregnant canines. Yes folks,  female canines are called bitches and males are called Dogs. 🙂

As a responsible breeder myself, I want to start out by saying that I believe that Breeding Dogs is not a right, but a privilege. As such, there are responsibilities incumbent upon anyone and everyone who undertakes to do so. These responsibilities include the stewardship of the breed. A responsible breeder breeds to eliminate health problems and preserve the breed.
What benefits the dogs must take precedence over what benefits the people

Okay, now on to nutrition for the pregnant bitch….
Natural Rearing is a term coined by the great pioneer in natural feeding and rearing practices, Juliette de Bairacli Levy. The method is as old as mother nature herself.  It basically requires that your raise or rear your animals in as natural an environment as possible, being fed a diet very close to one they would have in the wild. Along with this includes living in a pack environment, on clean ground, having plenty of free access to fresh air, sunshine, clean, pure drinking water and plenty of free running exercise. Bitches raise and wean their puppies on their own schedules (without humans removing puppies from their mothers care to “artificially wean” them). The bitch will wean the puppies on her own and at the same time, teach them all important life lessons It is a natural method of learning the canine/pack social skills and is extremely important in the formation of stable temperament!

Natural rearing breeders raise their dogs on a raw meat and bones diet and most of us do not vaccinate unless and only when it is required by law (Rabies).

We are a small but growing group because, it is difficult for people to get past the billions of dollars that have been spent over the last fifty years to convince you, your breeder, your vet, your government (all levels), and most of your pet owning friends, that you must vaccinate your animal every year, and you should feed only scientifically 100% balanced nutritional, commercial pet food, etc. In other words if you do not follow the orthodox “wisdom” of caring for your animal, you are considered to be irresponsible. If you don’t follow the dogma, conventional wisdom will tell you that you will probably kill your pet or at the very least be asking for some crippling disease or malformation.

The rearing of healthy puppies, that will be able to go on to produce their own healthy puppies is a never-ending cycle. But, you have to start somewhere. There is a school of thought that says that it takes a minimum of 5 generations of naturally reared puppies to get back to a state whereby all generations benefit fully from natural rearing. I tend to believe it takes a few more years then that however, if we are talking about the breeding of raw fed, non vaccinated sires and dams all along both lines with no exceptions (not a NR dam and a conventionally reared sire or visa versa) then I believe this is the foundation to start with. I have been breeding truly natural reared dogs (sire and dam, grand sire and grand dam on both sides) for three and four generations for most of my dogs now and they living well into their teens with no health problems normally seen in aging dogs fed kibble and vaccinated every year or three.

Prior to any mating, the breeder should take every precaution to ensure that the bitch is in ideal health. This is a good time for a good physical exam as well as getting all health testing done pertinent to your specific breed (DNA testing as well as OFA hips, CERF, etc.). If you have been conventionally rearing the bitch, have a stool sample checked for worms. If necessary use a gentle, natural herbal wormer or DE several months before she is due to come into heat. She should be in optimal physical condition. To ensure this, she should be exercised regularly and maintained on a high quality raw SARF (Species Appropriate Raw Food) diet that matches her energy needs

The reproductive process does not begin at mating, so please don’t wait to put your bitch on a nutritious, preventative diet . If at all possible start her as a puppy. If you can acquire your breeding stock from a breeder that has been rearing her/his dogs naturally that would be ideal.

Several weeks prior to the mating process, her ovarian follicles are being recruited for the upcoming cycle. Because of this, it is important that the breeder not confuse optimal physical condition with athletic condition. The breeding bitch should have evident muscle tone, but also have a slight degree of body fat. This body condition will help promote a healthy endocrine system that will help influence the reproductive success to some degree.

Nutrition has long been recognized as an influential factor in bitch reproduction. Any discussion of canine nutrition needs to start with one basic premise. Dogs, all dogs, (even Boston Terriers lol), are carnivores. This is a biological given and all dietary decisions must conform to this if they are to result in proper, appropriate, nutrition. This is not something we can change to suit our own likes, needs and beliefs.

Feed ample (at will) raw, meaty bones; (the natural calcium, phosphorus and other minerals in bone and marrow will aid in staving off eclampsia too!) up until the last ten to 14 days before her whelping date. Too much calcium at this stage can actually cause calcification of the soft tissues of the fetus, as well as other birth defects. While it has been the addition of calcium supplements and dairy products that have shown to cause these problems in the pre-whelping bitch, it has also been noted that in the wild, the pregnant bitch tends to eat more muscle and organ meats in the last couple of weeks and very little bone. Although lactation does require large amounts of calcium, supplementation during pregnancy has not been found to prevent calcium depletion during lactation (eclampsia) and may actually compound the problem.

If you are already feeding a proper raw diet, you can pretty much just continue feeding what you normally do right up to that last two weeks. I actually do not change what I feed my bitches before they get pregnant except for giving them more as they need it during the pregnancy its self.

It is not recommend that you feed liver on a daily basis and do not give cod liver oil at this time.  Too much Vitamin A during pregnancy  has been known to cause abortions and deformities! I do feed my bitches as much raw foods as they want, add salmon oil and if needed some folic acid but I don’t feed them any other supplements and don’t let them get fat! NOTE: I have been feeding a raw prey model diet (and only vaccinated for rabies as required) for over twenty years now as well as not using any chemicals on, in or around the dogs so the need for supplements in my dogs is pretty small.

Usually a good rule of thumb for how much to feed the pregnant bitch is to increase her diet by 25% each week after the first six weeks of gestation. So, at week six, her food would be increased 25%. This is the first time you would change her rations. At week 7 you would increase her food again by 25%, making the amount bigger than what she ate at week 6. You continue following this pattern until her puppies are born. Feel her rib cage from time to time to make sure she is not losing weight or gaining too much weight as if she puts on too much weight, it could result in fat developing over her reproductive organs, which could make labor difficult if not impossible. However, if she is not getting enough food and kept at a healthy weight, she could risk developing eclampsia. This is a condition where the bitch develops a very low blood calcium level. And, if it’s not treated, eclampsia could result in seizures and eventually death.

While the Dam is feeding the puppies, I again feed my bitches pretty much as much as they want and often as they want. It is vital that they get plenty of raw meaty bones at this time so their calcium blood levels stay high since the majority of the calcium in her body and blood are going to the milk and nursing pups.

When the puppies are about 4 – 6 weeks old the mother should begin to regurgitate her food for the puppies to begin eating. If for some reason she does not do this or eats it up without letting the pups eat it then I will begin feeding them very small amounts of raw, ground chicken leg quarters (whole, bone, skin and all).

I always let the dam tell me when it is time to wean the puppies, I just abhor the practice of weaning puppies early just to get the bitch back in the ring more quickly, or to send a bitch borrowed on terms home early! The puppies need mom’s milk for as long as possible; a bitch being dried up too quickly/early can even suffer from mastitis.

If you have questions on raw feeding or natural rearing, or are interested in a consultation, please contact me

Already a Natural Rearing Breeder? Or looking for a naturally reared puppy? Come join the Natural Rearing Breeders Association!

Dr. Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason


  1. I have a 31/2 year old Rhodesian Ridgeback who had a C-section (One too big Pup) three weeks ago. She has 7 healthy puppies and she is on the same diet only quite a bit more, as she was before the puppies and she has TERRIBLE gas now! Is that normal? She didn’t have the problem before the puppies, (and surgery).

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