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Comparing lactation performance and puppy growth of overweight/obese and lean bitches


To identify how body condition and nutrition affect the whelping process and milk composition or production of female dogs and the health of their puppies. More specifically:
  • To compare milk composition and selected hormonal biomarkers during the postpartum period between overweight/obese and healthy weight bitches, and to correlate these with puppy growth and neonatal outcomes.


Obesity is a growing problem in our companion and breeding dog populations. A large contributing factor towards obesity in an otherwise healthy dog is a mismatch between food intake and exercise. Show standards in some breeds also seem to promote an “ideal” body type that is heavier than an optimal healthy weight, despite the known negative health consequences of excess weight in dogs. There is growing evidence in humans and rodents revealing the negative impacts of excess weight on fertility and pregnancy, as well as for lactating overweight mothers on their offspring’s health. However, there are currently no studies in dogs to show if these same negative impacts apply.

Our study aims to determine how body condition affects whelping and lactation in bitches, and the health of their puppies. We will investigate weight in conjunction with nutrition and exercise. 

We hope that the results of our study will help breeders and veterinarians make the best decisions about breeding, predict reproductive outcomes on an objective scientific basis, and implement and monitor nutritional, exercise, and management strategies to improve reproductive efficiency alongside bitch and puppy health.

This study is funded by a Society for Theriogenology Research Grant.


  • Healthy, intact female dogs aged 1.5-6 years
  • Medium to large breed dogs, weighing at least 15kg (33lbs)


  • Dogs fed homemade/ raw diets / fish supplemented diets
  • Current medical conditions
  • Dog taking medications other than flea/tick/heartworm preventatives

Study Design

Visits may be take place at the VA-MD Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg, VA or as house calls depending on owner location and preference.

Participants will be asked to participate in:

  • 5 separate in-clinic or house call visits up to 4 weeks after whelping
  • Keep a weekly weight and nutrition journal after whelping
  • Detailed records of the whelping process (if possible)
  • Detailed records of puppy weights and puppy developmental milestones

A complete appointment schedule will be provided to owners upon study enrollment.


All study-related visits and all study-related sample collections are covered by the study including physical exams, blood collections and milk collections. All costs associated with whelping, including any complications that may arise during or after whelping, are the responsibility of the owner.  


Dr. Sam McCarter and Dr. Orsolya Balogh, Theriogenology
Office Phone: 540-231-4621 | Email:

If your query is urgent, please call the Small Animal Hospital on 540-231-4621 and ask for the theriogenologist on duty.

Related Materials

Recruitment flier