Canine eclampsia or Milk Fever
Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever, Eclampsia, puerpural tetany) is a startling and dangerous condition brought on by extremely low levels of calcium in the blood stream. The presence of a vet is very urgent if you want to save the animal's life.
The exact cause is unknown, but the condition is related to an imbalance between calcium uptake from the digestive tract and calcium outflow in milk, urine, and feces. It is most often seen in bitches with small litter and excessive milk production. The bodies of some lactating dogs and cats simply cannot keep up with the increased demands for calcium. Highest incidence is with the first litter. Animals with milk fever lack the ability to quickly move calcium into their milk without depleting their own blood levels of this mineral. Possibly eclampsia is worsened by use of calcium supplements during pregnancy.
Signs of hypocalcemia include neuromuscular excitability and grand mal convulsions. It causes seizures, staggering, convulsions, muscle tremors, restlessness, high body temperature and excessive panting; it can be fatal if not treated promptly with injections of calcium. Your veterinarian will also prescribe oral supplementation with calcium and will recommend an appropriate diet of high quality adult dog food to prevent recurrence. The puppies should not be allowed to nurse the mother for 24 hours after emergency care; they should be hand fed a puppy or kitten milk replacement forumula until they can resume nursing.
Eventually, the dog may be unable to walk and her legs may become stiff or rigid. The dog may have a fever, with body temperature even over 105º F. The respiration rate (number of breaths per minute) will increase. At this point, death can occur if no treatment is given.
Dogs with eclampsia usually require immediate emergency care. Treatment usually includes:
• Intravenous calcium (calcium gluconate) given very slowly
• An intravenous or oral dextrose solution to increase blood sugar
• Anti-seizure drugs (e.g. Valium®) if seizures are unresponsive to calcium and dextrose
• Cooling of patients with severely elevated body temperatures
• Removal and hand raising of all puppies
• Oral calcium supplementation when the patient is stable
• Oral vitamin D supplementation to increase the absorption of calcium in the intestines
The best way to prevent eclampsia is to avoid calcium supplementation during pregnancy and to feed the pregnant bitch a well-balanced, good quality food. Supplementation of the bitch with calcium may be helpful once the puppies are delivered and are beginning to nurse. Supplemental feeding of the puppies may also be beneficial, especially for large litters.
Once a dog has had milk fever, there is an excellent chance that she will also have it with future litters if preventive steps are not taken. Be sure to work closely with your veterinarian if your dog has had eclampsia in the past and is pregnant again.
In conclusion, it is of great importance for owners of pregnant or nursing dogs to be able to recognize the signs of eclampsia. If you feel your female dog is showing these signs, remove the pups to prevent further nursing and seek veterinary assistance at once.