Expert advice from Baileys’ canine nutritionist on caring for first time mothers

Q: I own an 18-month-old Irish Wolfhound bitch, which I got from a rescue centre last year. She has a super kind temperament and has proved problem-free to own. I am tempted to breed a litter from her, but I am unsure at what age would be best, and if there is a standard diet to feed bitches to ensure that she is in the best of health before mating. Please could you advise?

Nutritionist Liz Bulbrook replies: Views differ as to the optimum age to start breeding from bitches, from waiting until they have had their second or third season or waiting until they are three years old.

Remember that the bigger breeds are later maturing themselves, and at 18 months old your bitch will only just be reaching maturity herself, so it would advisable to wait at least another six to 12 months.

However if you contact the breed society they should be able to offer you more specific breeding advice for Irish Wolfhounds.

You mention that you are “tempted” to breed due to her lovely nature, however be sure you are prepared for the increased work and cost; your bitches requirements for food will increase substantially when she is lactating which coupled with the demands of the puppies at pre-weaning results in increased food requirements all-round.

If you do decide to mate her, then providing that you have your bitch established on a nutritious balanced diet for mature dogs and you are feeding recommended amounts then there should be no immediate need to change rations.

A commercially prepared food for a dog at maintenance will provide a good balance of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals, which should ensure good health and fertility as well as satisfying the early requirements of pregnancy.

Typical diets will provide in the region of 18-20% protein, 8-12% fat. If your bitch conceives, then most of the growth of the foetus takes places during the last three weeks of the pregnancy, although development of the mammary glands and uterine tissues takes place before this.

Maintain your bitch on normal rations until about 6 weeks into the pregnancy, and then start to increase the amount fed by 10% each week, unless the bitch is overweight in which case it is probably best to not increase her food intake until after whelping.

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