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.

Flystrike In Rabbits

During the summer months your rabbit is at an increased risk of having Flystrike. This is caused by flies which lay their eggs on your rabbit usually in the hindquarters area. These eggs then hatch into maggots in as little as 12 hours, burrowing into your rabbit’s skin and eating it away. This causes extensive external and internal wounds. The fly season generally runs from April to October so your rabbit could potentially be at risk most of the year. High risk rabbits are those that suffer from obesity, dental disease, diarrhoea, arthritis and those kept in dirty hutches that attract flies.  It is always important to check your rabbit daily but during the summer they should be checked at least twice a day. If Flystrike is not treated early enough it can be fatal.

Prevention of Flystrike

We recommend that you check your rabbit at least twice a day, paying particular attention to their rear end to make sure it is clean and dry. 

Feed your rabbit a regular balanced diet to help prevent diarrhoea.

Regular cleaning of the hutch is essential to make sure that the bedding is dry and insect free.

During the summer months covering your rabbit’s hutch with an old net curtain can help stop flies from entering their hutch through the mesh.

Your rabbit can be protected from Flystrike by applying a product available from the veterinary practice. This product contains a growth inhibitor and once applied it will prevent any fly eggs from hatching into maggots.This should be applied from the middle of the back to the rear end including the hind legs making sure that the whole bottle is used each time. This product cannot be used in pregnant or lactating rabbits or applied onto broken skin.  Rabbits must be over 10 weeks of age for use and protection lasts for approximately 8-10 weeks.

There is also a germicidal wound spray with insecticide available which repels insects, eliminates maggots and is effective against fleas, flies, mosquitoes, ticks and lice. This product kills any existing eggs and will repel any larvae present which will die within 30 minutes. The spray can be applied to open wounds and is ideal for use in rabbits, guinea pigs and other small rodents. Once sprayed it will last for 7 days.

Treatment for Flystrike

If you discover maggots on your rabbit, it is essential that you contact your veterinary surgery for emergency treatment. The maggots will be carefully removed and the wound(s) if present will then be cleaned. The damage to the skin and surrounding tissue will need to be assessed.  Sedation or anaesthetic may be required depending on the severity of the case. In some cases the damage caused by the maggots is too severe to treat and the only option is euthanasia.  However many rabbits survive and heal well with intensive nursing. This includes antibiotics, analgesia (pain relief) and intravenous fluids.