What Not To Feed A Nursing Dog?

When a mother dog is nursing her puppies, she has special nutritional needs to support milk production and keep her healthy. Feeding a nursing dog an appropriate diet is crucial for helping the pups to grow and thrive. However, some human foods and poor quality dog foods can be unsuitable and even dangerous during this important time.

Providing optimal nutrition enables the mother dog to produce nutrient-rich milk for nursing, maintain her own body condition, and recover from the birthing process. It also gives puppies the best start in life as they grow rapidly in the first weeks. This article will outline what not to feed a nursing dog and how to meet her dietary requirements.

Human Foods to Avoid

There are many human foods that should be avoided when feeding a nursing dog. Some of the most dangerous include:

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which are toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, seizures, and even death. All types of chocolate should be kept away from nursing dogs. [1]

Onions contain the toxic compound thiosulfate, which can damage red blood cells and cause anemia in dogs. Garlic also contains thiosulfate in lower concentrations. Any form of onions or garlic, including powders and cooked foods containing them, should not be fed to nursing dogs. [2]

Raisins and grapes can cause kidney failure in dogs. The exact toxin is unknown but even a small number of grapes or raisins can be deadly. These dried fruits should never be given to nursing dogs. [3]

Artificial sweeteners like xylitol are extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar and liver failure. It should never be given to dogs. Check labels of gum, candy, peanut butter, and baked goods. [2]

Avocados contain persin, which can damage heart muscle, cause vomiting, and even lead to death in dogs. Do not feed avocado of any kind, including guacamole. [1]

Alcohol has the same effects on dogs as humans, but dogs cannot metabolize it as efficiently. Alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system depression, tremors, and difficulty breathing. Never give dogs alcohol or alcoholic beverages. [2]

Ingredients to Limit

When feeding a nursing dog, it’s important to limit foods with certain ingredients that can cause gastrointestinal upset or reduce milk production. Some key ingredients to restrict include:

Fatty foods – High-fat foods like bacon, sausage, and fried foods can lead to pancreatitis in nursing dogs. Stick to leaner meats and monitor fat content in commercial dog foods.

Dairy – While small amounts of plain yogurt or cheese may be ok, lactose can cause digestive issues. Limit dairy or stick to lactose-free options.

Salt – Excess sodium can cause gastrointestinal upset and dehydration. Avoid adding salt to homemade meals and read labels to ensure low sodium content in commercial foods.

Spices – Spicy seasonings like garlic, onion, pepper, chili powder, etc. can irritate a nursing dog’s sensitive digestive system. Stick to blander food seasonings.

By restricting fatty, dairy-based, salty, and spicy foods, you can help keep a nursing dog’s GI tract comfortable and support healthy milk production.

Raw Meat, Fish, and Eggs

Raw meat, fish, and eggs can contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli that can be dangerous for nursing dogs and their puppies (https://perfectlyrawsome.com/raw-feeding-knowledgebase/raw-feeding-guidelines-for-pregnant-lactating-dogs/). These bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature and can lead to food poisoning. While healthy adult dogs may be able to handle raw meats in their diet, pregnant and nursing dogs have weakened immune systems and are at higher risk of getting sick.

To avoid potential foodborne illnesses, it’s recommended to avoid feeding raw or undercooked meat, fish, and eggs to nursing dogs. Instead, choose cooked meats without bones or high-quality commercial dog food (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dogs-and-raw-food-diets). Consult your veterinarian about the best diet for your nursing dog.


Bones should be avoided when feeding a nursing dog. Bones can present a choking hazard, as dogs may try to swallow larger pieces whole in their eagerness to eat while nursing puppies. According to Perfectly Rawsome, bones should make up 15-20% of an adult dog’s diet, but nursing dogs should not be given bones due to the risk of choking. Bones can also splinter and cause lacerations or blockages in a dog’s digestive tract. While bones provide calcium, there are safer ways to supplement calcium for a nursing dog.

Low-Quality Kibble

While any dog food is better than no food, low-quality kibbles often lack the nutritional value nursing dogs require. Many cheap dog foods contain fillers like corn, wheat, and soy which are difficult to digest and provide little nutritional benefit. They may also use rendering leftovers and artificial preservatives instead of high-quality meat as the primary ingredient. According to veterinarians, low-quality dog foods do not supply enough protein, fat, vitamins or minerals for nursing mothers and growing puppies. The Dog Food Advisor recommends avoiding kibbles with high filler content, unnamed meat sources, artificial colors/flavors, and chemical preservatives like BHA and BHT.

Opt instead for premium puppy formulas with digestible carbohydrates like brown rice and oatmeal, as well as identifiable whole meat sources listed as the first ingredients. Reputable brands formulated specifically for growth, reproduction and lactation provide complete, balanced nutrition for nursing dogs. Focus on quality over quantity when selecting kibble.

Sources: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/best-dog-foods/nursing-dogs/, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-the-nursing-dog


It is important to consult your veterinarian before giving any supplements to a nursing dog. While some supplements may provide benefits, others can be harmful. Some key things to consider:

Calcium supplements may be recommended, as nursing dogs can become deficient in calcium. However, excess calcium can harm the mother dog and puppies, so only give calcium under veterinary guidance (https://www.amazon.com/Nutrition-Strength-Lactation-Post-Natal-Phosphorus/dp/B0B36G6V4F).

A probiotic supplement may help support the nursing dog’s digestion and immune system. Choose a high-quality probiotic formulated for dogs (https://www.poochandmutt.co.uk/blogs/supplements/what-supplements-to-give-pregnant-nursing-dogs).

Supplements containing herbs or essential oils are risky for nursing dogs, as these substances can transfer to puppies through milk. It’s best to avoid them unless explicitly recommended by your vet.

Always follow label directions carefully and monitor your dog for any adverse reactions when introducing supplements. Reduce or discontinue any supplement that causes issues.

While supplements can provide nutritional support, they should not replace a high-quality dog food formulated for lactation. Good nutrition starts with the base diet.

Feeding Schedule

Nursing dogs require feeding a high-quality diet in smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day – typically 3-4 meals spaced evenly. This helps ensure the dog receives adequate nutrition for milk production while avoiding digestive upset from large, infrequent meals (VCA). The small, frequent feedings help stabilize blood glucose levels and provide a steady supply of nutrients to the mammary glands for milk synthesis (AKC).

It’s best to monitor the dog’s appetite and adjust meal frequency and portions as needed, while aiming for smaller portions 3-4 times daily. Free choice feeding can also work well for some nursing dogs to allow them to eat whenever hungry. The goal is to provide steady nutrition and avoid gastric upset or weight loss from inadequate calorie intake during peak lactation.

Ensuring Proper Nutrition

A nursing dog has increased nutritional needs to support milk production and puppy growth. It’s important to ensure she gets adequate amounts of high-quality proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. According to Purina, lactating dogs require 1.5-3 times more protein than normal [1]. High biological value proteins like chicken, lamb, turkey, eggs, and dairy provide amino acids for puppy development. Essential fatty acids from fish oils, flaxseed, and chicken fat nourish skin and coat. The best vitamins for nursing dogs are A, B6, C, and E. These aid metabolism, milk quality, immune function, and antioxidant status. Major minerals to supplement are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Feed nursing dogs high-quality puppy formula or premium adult dog food that is specifically formulated for gestation and lactation. Avoid inferior brands with fillers and artificial preservatives. Supplementing with omega fatty acids, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and a multi-vitamin can help meet increased demands. Always provide fresh, clean water. Monitor for weight changes and adjust food quantities if needed. With proper nutrition, nursing dogs can remain healthy and produce quality milk for their puppies.

When to Consult a Vet

If your nursing dog is experiencing any issues with appetite, gastrointestinal problems, or rapid weight loss, it’s important to consult your veterinarian.

Lack of appetite or disinterest in food could be a sign your dog is dealing with nausea, gastrointestinal distress, or other medical issues that are preventing her from eating properly. Since nursing requires additional calories, a healthy appetite is essential. If your dog stops eating her normal food, loses interest in treats, or acts lethargic, contact your vet right away.

Diarrhea, vomiting, or other GI problems can lead to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies in a nursing dog. Puppies need to receive important antibodies from their mother’s milk, so gastrointestinal disease should be treated quickly. Call your vet if you notice any diarrhea, vomiting, or abnormal stools.

Rapid weight loss while nursing is also a cause for concern. Nursing dogs should maintain their weight since they burn extra calories producing milk. If you notice significant weight loss or muscle wasting, your dog may not be getting enough nutrition to support herself and the puppies. Have your vet run tests to identify any underlying issues.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the health of a nursing dog. Call your vet promptly if you have any concerns so both mom and puppies can get the care they need.

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