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Understanding lactation in female dogs

As soon as her puppies are born, the female dog is able to provide for their needs, first with colostrum and then with her milk. But how is milk produced and how does a feeding work?

Secretion and ejection of milk in the female dog: principle

During gestation, when the progesterone level drops, the pituitary gland, an endocrine gland, starts to produce more prolactin. This is an anteropituitary hormone that plays a fundamental role in lactation. In fact, the neuroendocrine system controls milk secretion and the flow of milk from the udder at feeding time. During each feeding, the puppies - by kneading and sucking - perform a mechanical action that triggers a reflex. The hypothalamus then comes into play by stimulating the contraction of cells that allow the milk to be ejected.

Nursing puppies by their mothers also causes the production of hormones such as prolactin to keep their levels high. However, during the post-weaning period, prolactin levels drop to baseline levels and lactation is stopped.

Duration of lactation in the female dog

After whelping, lactation starts between 1 and 3 days, then increases over the days to reach its maximum from the 3rd to the 5th week. It then decreases to dry up completely when the puppies are ready to be weaned. When she has less milk, the female dog will accompany her puppies to weaning.

A female dog can produce - depending on her breed and the number of puppies she has given birth to - up to 2 liters of milk daily, which can correspond to 70 or 80 liters over the entire nursing period. This is sometimes equivalent to 3 times her weight. You can imagine the energy requirements that this imposes on the body. They are 4 times more important than the rest of the time. The nursing female dog must therefore be particularly well fed, thanks to a food adapted to this particular period.

Why is colostrum so important for puppies?

When her puppies are born, the mother - like all female mammals - produces colostrum. This is the very first milk, a liquid that is particularly precious for the puppies' survival. A sort of miracle of nature, colostrum contains elements that are essential to the newborn puppies, such as
  • Lactoferrin for the immune system,
  • Glyconutrients that allow the cells to develop,
  • Proline, an amino acid,
  • antibodies,
  • Nutrients for their growth...
It is fundamental that each puppy can drink this colostrum within 2 days maximum after its birth so that it can benefit from its high protection.

What to do when a female dog lacks milk?

Some female dogs do not produce enough milk to feed all their offspring. It is therefore necessary to supplement the puppies' food either by giving them specialized milk through a bottle, or by subjecting them to another female dog who is also breastfeeding but has few puppies to feed. This second solution does not always work. It is also necessary that the substitute nurse is willing to accept to feed puppies that are not hers. This is not a foregone conclusion because not many female dogs are willing to nurse the puppies of another. If you notice that your female dog doesn't have enough milk to feed her puppies, don't hesitate to talk to your veterinarian.