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Eclampsia In The Dog
Normal blood calcium level in a dog is 9-11.2mg/dL
 and in a cat is
8.2 - 10.8 mg/dL

Blood levels of calcium have a far reaching effect on all cell functions.  Under certain influences the blood calcium levels can rise or fall to dangerous levels that lead to cardiac, neuromuscular, cognitive and renal dysfunction.  Learn more about eclampsia and the danger this dysfunction can be to a dog nursing puppies.

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The last time my
4 year old Yorkie had pups she developed some kind of milk fever or whatever it's called... I think eclampsia.  I had to take her in to an emergency clinic because she was stumbling, shaking all over and vomiting.  What's this all about and why does it happen?



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Answer:  eclampsia in dogs... blood calcium levels... nursing pups
     Eclampsia is the correct term even though this aberration in blood calcium levels is often called milk fever.  These patients often have a high temperature (104 or higher!) but the hyperthermia is technically not a fever as from fighting an infection.  The elevated body temperature results from the continuous muscle tremors and spasms, excitement and panting.  Also called hypocalcemia and puerperal tetany, doctors consider these episodes emergencies so the patient is admitted as soon as possible.
Most commonly seen in small to mid-sized bitches a few weeks after whelping, this condition should be watched for closely. A typical call to my office goes like this:
     "Doctor, my four year-old Schnauzer whelped five puppies two weeks ago. She was fine until today when she started pacing and didn't want to nurse. Now she's worse and panting, shaking all over, and can't even stand up."

The most common signs are muscle tremors, restlessness, panting, incoordination, body temperature as high as 106 and seizures.

Doctor's Notes
     "Home brewed" diets can be part of the problem. Often a dog owner innocently may
be adding too much meat to the bitch's diet, thinking the extra protein beneficial.           
     What's really happening is the calcium to phosphorus ratio is out of balance because the amount of useful calcium in the food is actually reduced! The ideal contains a ratio of calcium to phosphorus of 1.2 to 1. (Many organ meats such as liver have a ratio of calcium to phosphorus of 1 to 15!!)

Approximate normal blood calcium levels are:
9 - 11.2 mg/dL
8.2 - 10.8 mg/dL

Causes of eclampsia:
  Imbalanced Nutrition - see Doctor's notes above
  Low blood levels of albumen - Dietary protein deficiency or excessive loss from the body of albumen (which happens in some kidney diseases) will cause low levels of calcium in the circulation.
  Disease of the parathyroid glands - This condition is quite rare.
  Excessive milk production - When pups require large amounts of milk (10 to 30 days post whelping) the bitch's ability to maintain proper amounts of calcium in her blood stream becomes stressed. Milk production has priority over the blood stream for
Dog with swollen mammary glands

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Large breeds seem less susceptible to eclampsia, but it can occur especially with big litters These pups take in much less mother's milk daily compared to the amount needed at 3-4 weeks of age. Small breeds seem more more likely to develop eclampsia especially if their diet is not correctly balanced Intravenous medications can quickly correct the deficient calcium ion concentrations and stabilize the patient.

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What's the treatment for eclampsia... and can it be prevented if we want to breed her again?

Time to wean the pups from the mother!
As long as the pups continue to nurse
the milk production will continue!



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     Medical Intervention as soon as possible is required.  This is an emergency situation and your veterinarian will get started with treatment after a few quick tests to be certain that low circulating calcium is present or that there are no other issues similar to the signs displayed in the patient.
     In general some treatment protocols include:

  I. V. Catheter for a slow, careful injection of a calcium solution.
  I.V. dextrose for quick energy. By this time the bitch will be thoroughly exhausted due to the muscle tremors and caloric input is important.
  Mild sedation may be required.
  Cool bath to lower body temperatures to normal.

NOTE: Your veterinarian will take a blood sample prior to treatment for a thorough analysis of the bitch's blood chemistry.

Good quality food, don't over supplement with meat or calcium powders.
If supplementation is recommended, add a balanced source of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin D to the bitch's diet beginning about mid-term. The best sources are milk (withdraw if this causes a loose stool) or cottage cheese. DO NOT add calcium alone! It MUST be used along with phosphorus. A ratio of 1.2 to 1 (calcium-to-phosphorus) is best.

Related topics:
chemistry panel    newborn pups      dog spay

Doctor's Notes
  Sometimes cortisone is very helpful in preventing Canine Eclampsia - ask your vet.
  Supplement the puppies' intake with a milk replacer.
  Wean the pups as soon as possible.

  Start presenting mushy food to pups even at 2.5 to 3 weeks of age.

  Pups should not nurse longer than 4-5 weeks of age.

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