Giving calcium to pregnant dogs may make sense if you think about the burden of nursing a large litter, but the truth is, giving calcium to pregnant dogs can turn out becoming a major problem and life threatening too. It's therefore important to learn more about how the dog's body works during times of supply and demand as it happens when dogs are pregnant and getting ready to give birth. The biggest concern is a medical condition known as eclampsia. Veterinarian Dr. Ivan Crnec provides an insight into this condition and what happens if you give calcium to pregnant dogs.
Causes of Low Levels of Calcium in Dogs
Eclampsia (also known as puerperal tetany or milk fever) is an acute, potentially life-threatening threatening condition that usually occurs 1 to 4 weeks after giving birth. The condition develops during peak lactation simply because the production of milk drains too much calcium from the nursing mother’s body. Eclampsia is therefore more likely to occur in poorly nourished individuals, small females and those with particularly big litters.
Eclampsia occurs due to calcium deficiency. The low levels of calcium in the mother’s blood (hypocalcemia) are usually the result of an inability to replace the calcium that the mother puts into her baby’s bones and later on into the milk. Either she is not absorbing calcium properly from her food or the stress of motherhood has reduced her appetite.
There are several reasons that may lead to low levels of calcium. Those reasons include:
- Excessive calcium loss during pregnancy (for the developing fetal skeletons, teeth and nails)
- Excessive calcium loss during nursing (for the production of milk)
- Excessive calcium supplementation during pregnancy
- Insufficient calcium supplementation while nursing
- Inadequate nutrition during pregnancy and while nursing
- Endocrine imbalances due to parathyroid gland issues.
Some dogs may also be more predisposed than others considering that eclampsia is a breed-predisposed condition. Toy breeds and small dog breeds are commonly affected by this condition. The risk is therefore significantly high for Toy Poodles, Miniature Pinschers, Chihuahuas and Shih-Tzus.
The risk of developing eclampsia is higher in good mothers that are particularly attentive to their puppies. The risk is also higher in mothers receiving inadequate nutrition and mothers nursing big litters. A dog that has had eclampsia will likely develop it with future litters.
Signs of Eclampsia in Dogs
What are the signs of eclampsia in dogs? The mother becomes restless and pants at first, but soon looks anxious and breathes more heavily. Her panting becomes deep and intense, with her lips usually pulled back. Jerky movements develop and muscle spasms resembling those in dog tetany can be observed. After a while she loses her coordination and ultimately develops strong seizures.
Because of the spasms and seizures, the rectal temperature is particularly high. When dealing with the effects of eclampsia, some dogs can become unusually aggressive.
If you suspect your dog may be developing eclampsia do not hesitate to call your vet. Meanwhile, to avoid further aggravation and complications, it is advisable have the pups removed from the mother – the goal is to prevent suckling.
At the Vet's Office
The above described clinical manifestation combined with the history of recent whelping and predisposing factors, give a clear indication of eclamspia. The diagnosis can be confirmed with laboratory tests – measuring the blood calcium levels. Dogs with eclampsia have less than 7 micrograms of calcium per deciliter of blood.
Dogs that developed eclampsia need urgent intravenous administration of calcium. The intravenous calcium should be administered slowly, carefully and in the right amount (usually dogs need 1 milliliter of 10% calcium gluconate per kilo). If given in a larger dose or too rapidly, the calcium may cause severe drop in the heart rate followed by a hard-to-control arrhythmia.
In addition of calcium, dogs with eclampsia require antipyretics – drugs that reduce the elevated body temperature). The process of body temperature lowering can be fastened with cool baths. Most eclampsia patients need anti-seizure drugs – drugs that manage the spasms, convulsions and seizures. If the seizures are too strong or frequent, the patient should be mildly sedated. Intravenous dextrose injections are also beneficial (this is because the tremors and seizures deplete the glucose stored in the liver thus causing low blood glucose levels).
Usually, dogs with eclapmsia need to be hospitalized until fully stabilized. After sending them home, they are prescribed oral calcium and vitamin D supplements. These oral supplements prevent relapse of the condition after treatment.
If the mother is not hospitalized, it is advisable to have the pups temporarily removed from her and fed by hand while she recovers. Subsequently, their nursing should be restricted to three periods of about 20 minutes each, with additional hand-feeding according to age and needs. If the mother cannot eat on her own, she should also be hand-fed.
What's the prognosis of eclampsia in dogs? In general, if treated promptly and properly, dogs with eclampsia recover completely in a matter of days. However, if left untreated, the consequences can be fatal.
Should You Give Calcium to Pregnant Dogs?
Giving a female dog calcium supplements during pregnancy does not reduce her risk of developing life-threatening eclampsia. In fact, excessive calcium supplementation during pregnancy a can suppress the production of parathyroid hormones, thus increasing the risk of developing low blood calcium levels.
Therefore, generally speaking, it is not recommended to use calcium supplements during pregnancy. However, each individual is different and has different requirements. If you are not sure whether calcium supplementation is needed, talk to your trusted vet.
Unlike during pregnancy, calcium supplementation during nursing is actually quite helpful. It is recommended to give the mother her first dose of calcium in early labor (when she starts nesting or her rectal temperature drops one degree). Before the first pup is born, the goal is to apply three to four doses in the mother. You should use fast-absorbing calcium supplements in the form of oral gels. Using calcium supplements at this point has another advantage – it dilates the cervix, thus, making the delivery process easier and faster.
Pregnant dogs should be fed high-quality diets rich in essential vitamins and minerals. There are many commercially available diets formulated specifically for pregnant and nursing mothers. Certain human foods are particularly rich in calcium. Those foods are: eggs, or more precisely eggshells, dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cottage cheese, raw bones and fish such as trout, tuna, salmon and sardines.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.