ECLAMPSIA OR MILK FEVER

Canine Eclampsia, more correctly called Puerperal Tetany, and sometimes called "milk fever", is a startling and dangerous condition brought on by extremely low levels of calcium in the blood stream.  Also called hypocalcaemia, veterinarians consider these epileptic-like episodes emergencies and the patient is admitted as soon as possible.  Most canine patients (the disorder is rare in cats) are presented suffering from severe muscle spasms, panting, eye twitching, and incoordination.  High body temperatures often complicate management.  Most commonly seen in small to mid-sized bitches a few weeks after whelping, AND demands quick intervention by a veterinarian.

A typical call to a veterinarian goes like this:
"Doctor, my four year-old Golden 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 veterinarian will sure take this situation very seriously and hasten to evaluate the patient as soon as possible in the clinic.  Specific treatments may be required to terminate the muscle spasms that occur with this disorder.  And if the muscle spasms reoccur in spite of correctional measures the pups may have to be hand reared so the lactating bitch will no longer be stimulated to produce milk..

The following is a brief outline of what a case of Canine Eclampsia looks like:
Signs:
Muscle tremors, restlessness, panting, incoordination, grand mal seizures and fever as high as 106 degrees.

Causes:
Hypocalcemia (low blood calcium) brought on by the following:

1. Poor Nutrition - "Home brewed" diets usually are at fault.  The owner innocently may be adding too much unbalanced meat to the bitch's diet, thinking the extra protein is 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 diet for dogs should contain a ratio containing, approximately, 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!!   Liver is great for dogs but if it comprises a large part of the diet, the calcium/phosphorus ratio of the diet will be improper.)

2. 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.

3. Disease of the Parathyroid Glands - This condition is quite rare.

4. 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.  As pups grow their total daily intake of milk increases which puts a greater and greater demand on their milk production.  Interestingly, though, even with small litters, some bitches produce so much milk so rapidly that their blood calcium levels simply cannot be maintained... her body is preferentially putting large amounts of calcium ions into milk production.  Milk production has priority over the blood stream for calcium!  Since calcium ions in the blood have a dynamic impact on nerve transmission and muscle contractility, all sorts of physiologic dysfunction will arise if blood calcium levels are too low.  In some disorders, blood calcium ion concentrations are too high which has another set of dysfunctional outcomes.

Prevention:

1.       High quality meat-based quality food but don't over supplement with all sorts of calcium, vitamins or meat products.

2. If you think you must add some sort of supplement use only small amounts of a balanced source of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin D to the bitch’s diet beginning about mid-term. Milk makes a good "supplement" as long as the lactose does not create loose stool. DO NOT add calcium alone!! It MUST be used with phosphorus and Vitamin D.  Remember that optimum ratio of calcium to phosphorus of 1.2 to 1.

3. Sometimes cortisone is very helpful in preventing Canine Eclampsia - ask your veterinarian about having some on hand prior to the next whelping.

4. Supplement the puppies' intake with a milk replacer as soon as possible to decrease the milk demands on the bitch.

5. Wean the pups as soon as possible.

Canine Eclampsia... Hypocalcemia... Puerperal tetany... Milk Fever...

 Fancy names for a not-so-fancy disorder.  Be on the alert and call your veterinarian if you become suspicious your bitch is having trouble.  Never underestimate the importance of a high quality, meat-based diet for your dog.  Do NOT over supplement with calcium powders, excess vitamins or too much meat in the dog's diet.  A high quality meat-based diet with increasing quantities available to the pregnant and nursing bitch plus readily available water is ideal. .