Occurring only in lactating (and sometimes pregnant) female dogs, Eclampsia is a life-threatening disorder that sets in extremely fast, resulting in low blood calcium levels. Other names used are Milk Fever and hypocalcemia.
Eclampsia is a serious disorder that needs to be treated immediately. If left untreated it will quickly result in breathing problems, seizures, paralysis, coma, and then the death of the animal. The extreme and fast loss of calcium through the milk is due to the fact the dog is lactating (losing calcium through the milk) or is pregnant and providing calcium to the puppies still in the womb.
Usually the disorder will set in one to three weeks after the dog gives birth. Eclampsia during pregnancy is not as common.
If a dog has developed Eclampsia once it is likely to suffer from it again should she get pregnant again.
The exact cause of Eclampsia is not completely understood but it is believed that poor diet during lactation and pregnancy play an important role. It is also believed that calcium supplements that are used during pregnancy may determine if the dog will develop Eclampsia.
While the dog is pregnant, she will lose a large amount of calcium to allow the fetal skeletons of the puppies to develop. After giving birth more calcium will be lost in the milk, resulting in a huge decrease of calcium overall.
The best thing an owner can do in order to help prevent Eclampsia is to provide the pregnant and lactating dog with easy to digest, good quality food. This means there needs to be an emphasis on offering nutritionally-balanced food, giving the dog all the right vitamins and nutrients.
It has also been shown that giving a pregnant dog a calcium supplement in fact causes damage rather than good. As long as that dog is on a nutritionally-sound diet, a supplement is not necessary. Once the puppies have been born, a supplement might be useful then.
Sometimes the lactating dog is so focused on feeding the puppies, she forgets to drink and eat herself. It is important to watch for this and be sure she allows herself time to replenish. This may mean removing the puppies for short intervals throughout the day while the mother drinks and eats.
It is important to note that the symptoms of Eclampsia set in extremely fast, not allowing much time to react; therefore, keeping a close eye on the dog during pregnancy and those first few weeks after birth is imperative. Symptoms can include:
- extreme thirst and increased water intake;
- biting at its feet;
- frequent urination;
- excessive salivation;
- muscle tremors or even spasms;
- lack of coordination;
- facial muscles appear to tighten;
- twitching; and
Dogs at Risk
It should be noted that any breed or age of lactating female dog can develop Eclampsia. However, it has been shown that small-breed dogs (toy breeds in particular) are at higher risk. Other common risk factors include calcium supplements during pregnancy which leads to excessive calcium, poor diet during gestation, an underlying medical issue/illness ,and even stress.
Testing and Diagnosis
If Eclampsia is suspected, the veterinarian will perform a biochemical profile to confirm the diagnosis. Another way to determine the diagnosis is to see how the dog responds to calcium administered by an I.V. If it seems to improve very quickly, Eclampsia is suspected.
Treatment and Prognosis
Because Eclampsia is a life-threatening illness, treatment needs to begin immediately. The goal of treatment in all cases of the disorder is to bring the blood calcium levels back to a normal state. In order to achieve this, the puppies may need to be weaned off the mother so she can receive proper medical care.
The affected dog will be placed on a calcium I.V. drip that is given very slowly. Sometimes the animal’s blood sugar will also need to be elevated and brought back to normal levels. This can be done by using a dextrose mixture. The dog may need to start taking Vitamin D and calcium supplements orally as well. The Vitamin D is given because it helps the body to absorb the optimum levels of calcium. The supplements will not be given until the dog is stabilized.
The veterinarian will need to monitor the dog during the treatment process to be sure the proper levels of calcium are being given and the dog is tolerating it well.
Like most disorders and illnesses, the dog’s prognosis is based on how quickly treatment was received and how it was tolerated. As long as it was caught quickly, there is no reason the dog shouldn’t have a complete recovery.