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Eclampsia in Dogs

What Is Eclampsia in Dogs?

Eclampsia in dogs, also referred to as periparturient hypocalcemia or puerperal tetany, is a condition characterized by low blood calcium levels, commonly observed in pregnant or nursing dogs. This condition poses a significant risk, particularly for small breed mothers when their puppies are between two to four weeks old. Calcium plays a crucial role in various vital functions within a puppy’s body. When calcium levels plummet dangerously low, it can swiftly escalate into a life-threatening situation.

The onset of eclampsia often occurs in nursing dogs that are producing substantial amounts of milk, depleting their body’s natural calcium reserves. Although eclampsia is not a frequent occurrence among dogs on a balanced diet, it still accounts for approximately a quarter of emergencies involving breeding females. It’s imperative to recognize that eclampsia constitutes a medical emergency. If there’s any suspicion that a dog is experiencing eclampsia, immediate attention from an emergency veterinarian is crucial, as the condition can rapidly progress to become life-threatening within a matter of hours.

Symptoms

Symptoms indicating eclampsia in dogs encompass various signs, including:

  • Stiff walking
  • Weakness or reluctance to walk
  • Muscle spasms or twitches
  • Tremors
  • Panting
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Increased body temperature (fever)
  • Seizures
  • Whimpering
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in behavior

Initially, dogs experiencing eclampsia typically exhibit mild indications, such as excessive panting, restlessness, and stiffness while walking. However, these symptoms swiftly progress to trembling, weakness, and ultimately seizures.

Causes

Eclampsia in dogs arises when the calcium levels in a dog’s body drop to dangerous lows. This occurrence is most prevalent in small-breed first-time mothers who have large litters. Breeds like Chihuahuas, Toy Poodles, Pomeranians, and Shih Tzus face a higher risk. Increased maternal attentiveness to their puppies also correlates with a heightened likelihood of developing eclampsia.

Typically, eclampsia manifests two to four weeks after the birth of the puppies, coinciding with the peak of the mother’s milk production. The significant demand for calcium to produce milk depletes the mother’s calcium reserves. Moreover, during pregnancy, the mother’s body utilizes stored calcium to form the puppies’ bones, further exacerbating the risk.

Administration of oral calcium supplements during pregnancy can paradoxically precipitate eclampsia instead of preventing it. This supplementation tricks the dog’s body into believing it has sufficient calcium, causing it to cease natural calcium production and resulting in a deficiency.

Disorders of the parathyroid gland, such as hypoparathyroidism, can disrupt calcium levels and contribute to eclampsia. Additionally, inadequate diet during pregnancy or nursing significantly increases the likelihood of eclampsia development.

Ensuring that a mother receives a balanced, nutrient-rich, high-quality diet is crucial when her body expends substantial amounts of calcium to nurture her puppies. Feeding commercial diets specifically formulated for pregnant or lactating (nursing) mothers or growing puppies is recommended during pregnancy and lactation to mitigate the risk of eclampsia.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing eclampsia in dogs typically relies on a recent history of pregnancy and/or lactation along with observed clinical signs. Veterinarians conduct comprehensive physical examinations and may suggest blood tests or X-rays.

Serum calcium levels, assessed through bloodwork, can confirm the diagnosis, although treatment often commences promptly if eclampsia is suspected. It’s vital to inform your veterinarian about your dog’s pregnancy or nursing status if she is unwell. This information can influence the urgency and speed of treatment administration.

Treatment

Treating eclampsia in dogs involves addressing the calcium deficiency, typically through slow intravenous (IV) injections administered by a veterinarian. In addition to IV calcium, your veterinarian may initiate IV fluids and place an IV catheter to rectify any dehydration or electrolyte imbalances your dog may be experiencing.

Due to the rapid life-threatening nature of eclampsia, treatment almost always occurs as an emergency in a veterinary clinic rather than at home. If seizures are present, your veterinarian may administer anti-seizure medications like midazolam or diazepam.

For dogs with fever, cooling methods such as cool IV fluids or application of rubbing alcohol on paw pads may be employed until the body temperature drops below 103°F. Since calcium regulates heart muscle contraction, close monitoring of heart rate is essential during the correction of the imbalance. Your dog may be connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG) for continuous heart monitoring while undergoing treatment.

Depending on the severity of the eclampsia, your veterinarian might opt to hospitalize your dog and maintain her on IV fluids. Severe cases can result in cerebral edema, characterized by fluid accumulation in the brain.

Following stabilization, some dogs may be discharged for continued outpatient treatment, which may involve subcutaneous injections or oral medications. Your veterinarian may prescribe oral calcium carbonate tablets and vitamin D supplements upon discharge to maintain stability.

Living and Management

After immediate treatment, dogs affected by eclampsia generally experience a smooth recovery. Often, they return to their normal behavior within a few hours. Once home, prioritize your dog’s comfort and allow her ample rest, especially if she experienced seizures or spasms during the calcium deficiency episode, which might leave her exhausted.

For the initial 12 to 24 hours post-treatment, it’s advisable to keep the mother dog separated from her puppies to prevent immediate nursing or latching. Eclampsia recurrence is a concern in 20% of patients if they resume nursing upon returning home. Therefore, transitioning to formula feeding or initiating the weaning process is recommended, depending on the age of the puppies.

For puppies younger than four weeks, opt for formula feeding using a high-quality milk replacer like Esbilac® and administer feeds every three to four hours. Puppies aged two to four weeks can be fed every six to eight hours. Those older than four weeks can start the weaning process onto commercial puppy food.

It’s crucial to understand that dogs with a history of eclampsia are prone to experiencing it again with subsequent litters if breeding continues. Therefore, prudent management and consideration of future breeding decisions are essential.

Prevention

Preventing eclampsia in dogs primarily involves providing a high-quality commercial pet food designed for pregnant or nursing mothers. Opting for puppy food instead of adult formulations is often sufficient, as these diets offer enhanced vitamins and minerals essential for maternal health.

Avoiding calcium supplementation during pregnancy is advised, as it can elevate the risk of eclampsia development. However, in cases where a dog has a history of eclampsia with previous litters, post-birth and nursing supplementation with oral calcium, such as Pet-Cal®, might be recommended by your veterinarian. Prior consultation with your vet regarding supplement usage ensures appropriateness for your dog’s specific needs.

For small breed dogs with large litters, consider providing multiple brief breaks throughout the day, allowing the mother to eat and rest away from her pups. Ensure she always has ample access to food and water.

Introducing puppy food to the litter alongside nursing when the puppies reach three to four weeks of age is beneficial. This practice helps supplement their calorie requirements, reducing their dependency on maternal milk.

Eclampsia in Dogs FAQs

What should I feed my dog with eclampsia?

Provide your dog with a premium commercial dog food designated for pregnant or nursing mothers or puppies. These formulations contain elevated levels of vitamins and minerals, addressing their nutritional requirements effectively.

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