The 13 Best Dog Foods for Nursing Dogs in 2023

By Kevin Myers | 2023 Update

A nursing or pregnant dog’s body is going through a lot of changes.

For herwell-being and that of her puppies, she needs proper nutrition. Moreover, it’s not just the mother that requires the right kind of kibble. The puppies need it too.

Therefore, we’re providing you with a list of what we think are the 13 best dog foods for nursing dogs.  

Before we discuss the virtues of these foods in detail, here’s a quick snapshot of our top five:

The Best Dog Foods for Nursing Dogs

Top ProductsWhat We Like About This Food…
1. Purina ONE SmartBlend Chicken & Rice Adult Formula Dry Dog FoodA dual blend of antioxidants promotes a healthy immune system and brain development, contains glucosamine
2. Nutro Ultra Adult Dry Dog FoodA healthy and complete formula for nursing dogs that contains high-quality ingredients includes glucosamine and chondroitin
3. Royal Canin Size Health Nutrition Small Starter Mother & Babydog Dry Dog FoodA complete formula to support a healthy immune system, packed with animal and vegetable protein, promote the health of nursing and pregnant female dogs
4. Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Healthy Development Small Bites Dry Dog FoodExcellent antioxidant composition, nutritionally balanced formula, suitable for both puppies and nursing mothers
5. American Journey Lamb & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Puppy Dry Dog FoodA grain-free formula for sensitive canines, loaded with vitamins and minerals for nursing moms, exceptional flavors rich in omega-3 and DHA

1. Purina ONE SmartBlend Chicken & Rice Adult Formula Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken (Source of Glucosamine), 2. Rice Flour, 3. Corn Gluten Meal, 4. Whole Grain Corn, 5. Chicken By-Product Meal (Source of Glucosamine)

Real chicken is one of the principal ingredients in this dog food. That and a few others, like grains, are all essential for expecting and nursing mothers. In addition to them, the Purine ONE SmartBlend also provides the dual blend of two antioxidants, vitamins A and E. These substances promote healthy immune systems. And then there’s DHA, another antioxidant, which will aid in brain development.

What’s more, you won’t find any fillers as part of this dog food formula. Instead, its glucosamine content makes it good for joint health. It also features phosphorous and calcium, which are necessary for bone growth and strength.

2. Nutro Ultra Adult Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Whole Brown Rice, 4. Brewers Rice, 5. Lamb Meal

With Nutro Ultra, you bring home a very healthy formula for nursing dogs. That’s because, first of all, it is rich in lean proteins. These high-quality ingredients don’t just maintain the optimal amino acid levels in your dog; they also taste excellent.

Second, there are whole grains in the mixture. Those are easily absorbed by the mother’s digestive system, thus ensuring health and well-being. You will also find that this formula includes glucosamine and chondroitin. Both promote healthy joint growth. Finally, the antioxidant part of this dog meal ensures the health of the heart, mind, and immune system.

3. Royal Canin Size Health Nutrition Small Starter Mother & Babydog Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken By-Product Meal, 2. Brewers Rice, 3. Chicken Fat, 4. Corn, 5. Wheat Gluten

So, this Royal Canin product isn’t just a good choice of dog food for weaning mothers. Its formulation also makes it perfect for weaning puppies. The first great thing about it is that it supports both their immune systems. Aside from that, you will find that it’s packed with vegetable protein, animal fats, and rice. All are essential nutrients that will promote health in the mother and baby dogs.

Certainly, the manufacturers had smaller mouths in mind when designing this formula. Because it is easier on the puppies’ digestive system, all these qualities make it one of the top dog foods for nursing dogs!

4. Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Healthy Development Small Bites Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken Meal, 2. Whole Grain Wheat, 3. Cracked Pearled Barley, 4. Whole Grain Sorghum, 5. Whole Grain Corn

You will find that this Hill’s Science dog food is suitable for both mothers and puppies. The first evidence of that is its nutritionally balanced formula. Your furry babies – and their babies – get all the essential nutrients they need from it.

Besides that, it is also much gentler on the newly developed and still-adjusting digestive systems. So, your dogs can get what they need from it. Then there’s the fact that its antioxidant composition will lend their immune systems a helping hand. Finally, fish-oil-based omega-3 and DHA are also part of its formula. These promote bone and joint health.

5. American Journey Lamb & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Puppy Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Lamb, 2. Chicken Meal (a source of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate), 3. Turkey Meal, 4. Peas, 5. Chickpeas

This dog food is chock full of vitamins and minerals and will provide your furry friend with energy all-day-long. That’s because it contains chickpeas, lamb, and sweet potatoes. What’s more, its high protein content is perfect for the development of lean muscles. The exceptional lamb flavor makes it a delicious and healthy treat.

Aside from protein, the product also contains beneficial antioxidants, such as omega-3 and DHA. Both nutrients are essential for the healthy development of the eyes and brain. Sources such as blueberries, carrots, and dried kelp, increase the fiber composition in each meal.

Finally, its formulation does not include any kind of grain, which is why it won’t upset sensitive canine tummies!

6. Purina Pro Plan Puppy Small Breed Chicken & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Corn Gluten Meal, 3. Poultry By-Product Meal, 4. Rice, 5. Whole Grain Wheat

The Purina Pro Plan dog is designed for puppies. It has a special blend that both promotes growth and protects them from illness. For instance, it contains colostrum, which is known for boosting dogs’ natural immune defenses.

In addition to that, its formula contains only natural ingredients. It also tastes good, so your pet will love the flavor. This dog food is also great if you want your puppy to develop strong bones and joints. Lastly, it energizes your pup, encouraging an active lifestyle.

7. Taste of the Wild High Prairie Puppy Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Buffalo, 2. Lamb Meal, 3. Sweet Potatoes, 4. Egg Product, 5. Pea Protein

If you want a dry dog food that will be good for both pregnant dogs and nursing mothers, then this High Prairie Puppy product is what you need. Since it is dense with nutrients that they need, it bolsters their strength.

What’s more, it satisfies the nutritional level requirements that the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles recommend. Canola oil is also a part of this dog food formula. That is a well-known rich source of omega-6 fatty acids. These nutrients are vital for the optimal health of your dog’s skin and coat. 

8. Merrick Classic Healthy Grains Puppy Recipe Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Deboned Chicken, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Brown Rice, 4. Barley, 5. Oatmeal

When looking for quality dog food for nursing dogs, reach for the Merrick Puppy Recipe. Your puppy gets a caloric intake of 400 kcal in every cup. Here are some reasons that make it such a good choice. Firstly, it is produced based on a nutrient-dense formula.

Secondly, it is available in both chicken and beef flavors. So, if your dog’s sensitive to either, you’d have an alternative. The glucosamine content in this dog food ensures healthy joints. The kibble size suits consumption by little mouths. Finally, its composition includes DHA – an antioxidant that promotes healthy cognitive development.

9. I and Love and You Lambarama Stew Grain-Free Canned Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Lamb, 2. Lamb Broth, 3. Vegetable Broth, 4. Lamb Liver, 5. Dried Egg Whites

Many dog owners swear by this no-grain formula. There are multiple reasons for that. It is delicious and comes in five different protein flavors. Also, it provides micronutrients that will be good for your pregnant dog. Those include zinc, copper, and iron.

There are no artificial flavors or colors or chemical preservatives in this dog meal. You also won’t find any added grains, such as corn or wheat.

10. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Salmon & Sweet Potato Formula Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Salmon, 2. Menhaden Fish Meal, 3. Sweet Potatoes, 4. Cassava Flour, 5. Potatoes

Natural Balance’s L.I.D. series offer you a grain-free option when it comes to quality dog food. As the name would indicate, L.I.D. has a limited number of sources for proteins and carbs.

Even so, it does qualify for AAFCO’s profiles. What’s more, this recipe will be suitable for pups of all ages. This is why we recommend that you treat your pregnant dog to this dog meal too. If you notice, the formula minimizes fat while upping the dosage of protein, which makes it a healthier alternative for pregnant canines.

11. Diamond Naturals Small Breed Puppy Formula Dry Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Chicken, 2. Chicken Meal, 3. Ground White Rice, 4. Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols), 5. Cracked Pearled Barley

Even though it won’t cost you as much as dog foods by other brands, its quality is on par with them. Besides affordability, there are other reasons that make it a good choice. For instance, it is laden with omega fatty acids and DHA. And they come from all-natural sources, i.e., vegetables and fruits like kale, blueberries, pumpkins, and oranges! Natural DHA is good for brain development and vision health.

Another reason is that it meets the calorie count requirement for pregnant dogs. All the protein your dog will receive from the meal goes toward building lean, stronger muscles. Other than that, the dog food also adds probiotics to the mix. That means your canine companion’s body will easily absorb the nutrient-rich recipe.

It doesn’t have any wheat, fillers, or synthetic flavors, either. In short, the only reason your dog shouldn’t be chowing down on this meal is if chicken or chicken fat makes them ill.

12. The Honest Kitchen Whole Grain Beef Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food

Top 5 Ingredients: 1. Dehydrated Beef, 2. Organic Oats, 3. Organic Barley, 4. Organic Flaxseed, 5. Dehydrated Potatoes

For some, even a premium commercial dry dog food brand just doesn’t cut it. Their pup is part of their family. So, if you cannot conceive of feeding your canine companion anything but the best, this is it. The quality of this Honest Kitchen’s product is human grade

In addition to that, it will suit canines of most sizes and breeds. In other words, it makes feeding time simpler if you have more than one furry companion in your house. You won’t have to buy separate types of dog meals for each.


Buyer’s Guide

Why is it important that you switch to a dam-specific dog food when yours expects a litter? It is vital because these dog meals will ensure she receives – and passes on – sufficient nutrition during all stages of gestation. After all, it isn’t just her health that you must worry about. The mother is also the nutrient source for the puppies. What’s more, her nutritional requirements usually increase further when she is in the last trimester of pregnancy.

As the dam begins to nurse her newly-arrived litter, the chances of nutritional deficiencies increase. That’s when the demands of lactation are already causing her body stress. Not only must the mother produce sufficient milk and colostrum. Also, she will need to recover from the ordeal of pregnancy. So, you’d need to ensure she receives adequate nutrition. And that means choosing the best dog foods for nursing dogs.

Ideally, a dog meal that helps take the dams’ weight up by 15-20 percent before she whelps is the best choice. Later on, she needs the nutrient-rich food, so she can keep feeding her pups. If you cannot find a formula catering specifically to nursing dogs, we’d suggest opting for one for puppies. That’s because it contains higher levels of key nutrients. In any case, switch your pet to a high-energy formula during pregnancy. Continue it while she nurses. Moreover, we’d recommend taking special care of her diet if a bitch is too lean. The same applies if you can see she will be delivering a litter of considerable size!

Guidelines for the Transition

Here are the general guidelines that will make the switch smoother. They will work regardless of the breed of your expectant dog:

  • Seek out your vet’s opinion on what you plan to do. They will know how you can arrange to increase the key nutrient uptake without risking the dam’s health. This goes doubly if your pooch has been facing weight-related problems.
  • Begin the transition gradually as opposed to in a single go. In short, keep substituting her dog with the new meal over a period of one week. Continue until the dam’s only consuming the new brand.
  • Switch to a new dog food approximately during the sixth week of pregnancy.
  • An expectant mother would need to nourish both herself and her developing litter. Ensure that you keep increasing the dog food dosage gradually after the switch. Thus, give them the same-sized portion for the first 4-5 weeks of pregnancy.


My bitch keeps throwing up after I switched her dog food. What do I do?

She will experience changes in appetite throughout the pregnancy. Particularly, weeks three and four, when your bitch will experience nausea. It is similar to morning sickness in humans and could be behind the loss of appetite. That said, if that lasts for more a week, get in touch with the vet. Do that if she looks listless to you, as well!

Another reason for appetite changes presents itself in the later stages. That’s when the abdominal space becomes quite constricted. So, feed her smaller doses of dog food and just up the frequency to keep her comfortable and healthy.

What should her food intake be just prior to parturition?

The term refers to the time when a bitch is ready to give birth. By then, you should have increased her calorie intake by 15-25 percent. About 12 hours before whelping, though, most bitches will refuse food. Don’t force her to eat but maintain water intake. This will prevent her from becoming dehydrated and weak as she labors.

After she has given birth, tempt her with some highly palatable, good-quality dog food. It is best if she consumes some of it as soon as possible. You might have to move the bowls to where her litter is. That’s because inexperienced mothers are often reluctant to leave the pups.

Will my dog’s nutritional requirements change when she begins lactating?

Yes, mostly because she is at more risk to develop nutritional deficiencies at that stage. Her body will utilize the nutrients she derives from dog food towards lactation and puppy growth. That would mean the depletion of her body reserves. If you don’t watch her diet, it will affect her own health. In simple words, the dam will need all nutrients in increased amounts to stay healthy – and keep lactating.

However, the calorific requirements of a canine mother can depend on several factors. Those include:

  1. The number of pups she has
  2. The size of the breed and the individual dog
  3. The dam’s own temperament of the dam

To be safe, increase her food intake when your bitch arrives at peak lactation. The volume should go up by 25% for each puppy she has. That way, she can maintain her body weight and take care of the new arrivals. In our opinion, feeding free choice is an even better option.

However, don’t depend on just any commercial dog food brand to provide sufficient nutrition. Because most of them don’t have the nutrient density and caloric content suited to lactation. Thus, if you feed the dam one of those products, she could become malnourished.

Instead, select a high-energy dog food for your bitch. It will keep both the mum and the pups healthy.

Why do vets and my dog-owning friends recommend that I switch my nursing bitch to puppy food?

Since puppies are much more active than adult dogs, they require energy-rich food. Dog foods catering to puppies have higher protein content – about 28-30%. In addition to that, those meals are also laden with other nutrients vital for growing puppies, including:

  1. Fat-soluble vitamins
  2. Minerals
  3. Water-soluble vitamins
  4. Fats


So, our list of best dog foods for nursing foods comes to an end. Lactation and pregnancy can be taxing on a dam’s body. Ensuring their body has all the ammunition to maintain its energy levels and nutrient reserves fall on you. Simply put, the list you saw above will help you do that!