Before joining Wolf Merrick Animal Hospital, I was presented with an unexpected case of a female Bichon that had started seizing several minutes prior to arriving at the hospital. The limited information we were able to obtain was that the female had recently given birth to puppies and was in the process of nursing. A quick blood test confirmed my suspicion - low calcium, known more commonly in lactating cows as “milk fever.” After carefully supplementing the Bichon’s calcium while monitoring her heart rhythm, she was looking right as rain. In follow-up discussion with her owner, I learned that she was still on an adult maintenance diet! This was not the appropriate diet for a female who was nursing puppies. I was reminded of this case while reading a recent veterinary journal article about a survey of just over 2,000 dog breeders. It found nearly 17% of them were using an incorrect commercial diet for their pregnant females and 9% an incorrect commercial diet for their puppies. That doesn’t include those who were feeding unbalanced home-made diets. Of the breeders surveyed, only 50% had consulted with a veterinarian about diet selection.
As a pet owner, when it comes to pet foods and pet treats, the most important group to be familiar with is the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials – a.k.a. AAFCO (petfood.aafco.org). While it is up to each state to enforce rules and regulations for pet food labeling and production, it is the AAFCO’s responsibility to make those rules and set minimum standards. Did you know that there are limitations on what ingredients can be included in pet foods and treats? Despite some marketing campaigns’ attempts to claim that “other dog foods” put unwholesome or unfit ingredients in their diet(s), this is simply untrue as long as the food meets “AAFCO Guidelines” and states such on its nutrition label. Of course, if a pet food or treat does not list “AAFCO tested” or “meets AAFCO guidelines” on its nutrition label, it is probably something you want to avoid.
As many pet owners have experienced, your pet has different needs at different stages of his or her life. In general, these stages can be simplified into two groups: maintenance ‘adult’ diets and puppy/pregnancy diets. Growing puppies are putting extra energy and nutrients towards developing bigger muscles, bigger bones…bigger everything! As a result, they require a diet that is proportionally higher in energy content, mineral content and other nutrients. Pregnant and nursing females have nutritional requirements similar to puppies – after all, the nutrients they pass on to those growing puppies need to come from somewhere! Whether you’re intentionally breeding or had an unexpected pregnancy, it is important to keep a pregnant or lactating female on a “gestation,” “puppy” or “all life stages” diet. You can then use the same diet for the puppies when it comes time to wean them! Without an appropriate diet, you may find yourself with growth abnormalities or a female unexpectedly having seizures.
When in doubt, don’t make the mistake that 50% of the surveyed breeders made – consult a veterinarian. If you are aiming to use a non-commercial diet, such as a home-made diet, consult a veterinary nutritionist or a PhD in animal nutrition.
-- A veterinary nutritionist service we often recommend is BalanceIt (balanceit.com), which is based out of the University of California-Davis --