Hypocalcaemia

Hypocalcaemia is a condition in which the calcium level in the blood is too low. It is also known as eclampsia or milk fever.

The condition can occur in any dog or cat but it is most commonly seen in dogs in late pregnancy or nursing a litter of puppies. Smaller breed dogs are thought to be especially prone to hypocalcaemia if they have given birth to a sizeable litter.

The condition is generally caused by the increased demands on the body during pregnancy as well as the demands of nursing a litter, which requires a high level of calcium. During pregnancy the mother has to supply calcium in her bloodstream for the bone development of her puppies. Once born, calcium is then also required through her milk for nutrition. As the puppies grow, higher levels of calcium are required.

Hypocalcaemia often occurs within the first week after giving birth but may develop at any stage during lactation.

Clinical signs

  • Nervousness
  • Panting
  • Shivering
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Death

Treatment of hypocalcaemia

If you notice any of the above clinical signs it is extremely important that you seek veterinary treatment immediately as it is a medical emergency and can result in death if not treated early.

Your veterinary surgeon will take a blood sample to check the level of calcium present. Intravenous calcium will then be administered to correct the level and intravenous fluids may also be required. Repeat blood samples are taken periodically to check that the calcium levels are increasing.

Prevention of hypocalcaemia

It is extremely important that towards the end of your dog’s pregnancy and during lactation she is fed a high quality puppy food. This is due to the food having a higher level of calcium than a normal adult food. Poor nutrition during pregnancy as well as inappropriate supplementation can also cause hypocalcaemia. A pregnant or nursing dog which is being fed a complete, balanced puppy food will not need any calcium supplementation. It has been shown that giving extra calcium during pregnancy can be counter- productive causing a higher risk of hypocalcaemia.

A first time mother may also find that the stress of looking after a litter can reduce her appetite and this in turn causes inadequate intake of calcium.

Once a bitch has had hypocalcaemia, it is very likely to reoccur in subsequent pregnancies, often with a much quicker onset of symptoms. It may not always be wise to breed again from these dogs as it is likely to occur during the pregnancy itself.