Canine eclampsia is a life-threatening disorder with a rapid onset of symptoms. Also called milk fever, eclampsia is caused by low blood calcium levels, or hypocalcaemia, in nursing bitches and sometimes in pregnant dogs. A lactating dog loses calcium through milk, and a pregnant dog can lose too much while her body provides calcium to the unborn puppies.
A dog that develops canine eclampsia usually is a small breed with a large litter, although this is not always the case. The dog may have poor dietary calcium intake or, conversely, the owner may have been giving her high amounts of calcium supplementation, which disrupts body regulation of calcium blood levels. Eclampsia usually develops within three weeks after the dog gives birth. The symptoms appear and progress quickly, and owners should obtain emergency medical attention for the dog at the first signs of trouble.
Initial eclampsia symptoms can include restlessness, nervousness, excitement and signs of stress such as unexplained panting. These symptoms may dissipate into lethargy. The dog begins walking with a stiff gait and can have muscle tremors. Her muscles may feel rigid. She eventually becomes weak enough to have problems walking. The dog may wobble and seem disoriented, and might lose all interest in the puppies.
If eclampsia is not treated by this point, symptoms become more severe. The dog may develop a fever and start shivering, and she might breathe rapidly. Seizures can occur, which may lead to a coma. Eclampsia left untreated can cause permanent damage to the lungs, kidneys and liver, and often is fatal.
Treatment for eclampsia in dogs focuses on returning blood calcium levels to normal. This usually includes providing a slow drip of intravenous calcium and preventing the dog from continuing to nurse the puppies, which will need to be hand-fed. The veterinarian may prescribe oral calcium supplements along with vitamin D supplements, which help the dog's body absorb calcium.
Dog owners can prevent eclampsia by not providing calcium supplements until the dog has given birth and is lactating. Pregnant bitches should be fed a well-balanced dog food of good quality, and owners should avoid buying generic and other cheap brands. If the owner wants to breed the bitch again in the future, careful attention should be paid to her diet and health during pregnancy, to prevent another episode of eclampsia.