By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Vet at Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance
Cinnamon’s family was excited; their 3-year-old seven pound Chihuahua had just given birth to 6 puppies! Cinnamon was a light chocolate brown color and her puppies looked just like her. It was her first litter and everything seemed to be going great. About two weeks after giving birth though, her family noticed something was terribly wrong. Cinnamon started to have a slight all over muscle tremor that quickly progressed through the day to almost seizure-like twitching and convulsing. Although they didn’t have pet health insurance for her, they were worried that she couldn’t even stand on her own, so her family called the clinic and brought her in for an emergency visit.
When Cinnamon arrived her temperature was getting dangerously high. It was close to 104 degrees due to her violent all-over body tremors and convulsions. After learning that she recently had six puppies, which is a BIG litter for a little Chihuahua and certainly a lot of puppies for a 7 pound dog to feed, we had a theory about what was wrong with her. Laboratory work was needed to confirm the diagnosis. Cinnamon’s owners would have greatly benefited from pet health insurance, as veterinary lab work and emergency care can be very costly.
Eclampsia or puerperal tetany is also called ‘milk fever.’ During pregnancy, especially in the last trimester and while nursing, the puppies’ nutritional demands are very high. The more puppies there are, the more nutrition the mother has to provide. One nutritional aspect that can become a problem is calcium. The growing skeletons of the fetuses, and subsequently, the puppies, have a high demand for calcium. The mother’s body will actually borrow from her own resources to keep calcium levels high in her milk, thus compromising herself. This dangerously low level of calcium is what causes milk fever.
Eclampsia is most common in small breed dogs with big litters. They generally have all-over muscle tremors and convulsions about 1 to 4 weeks after whelping. This is when the metabolic stress of lactation is at its highest. Early in the disease dogs may be restless, panting, whining, salivating or seem stiff. As the disease progresses, muscles will start to twitch and tremor. Severe cases can progress to seizures and even death. This is a medical emergency, as calcium is required for muscle function. The heart is a muscle, and without calcium, the heart can be compromised.
Cinnamon’s calcium level came back dangerously low and she was immediately given intravenous calcium slowly until she stopped convulsing. Treatment is very rewarding, and within about 10 minutes her body temperature had gone down and she could sit upright without jerking. She stayed in the hospital through the day and received repeated calcium injections until she went home on oral calcium supplements. Her pups were a little young to start being weaned, but typically as soon as possible the puppies should be on a milk replacer or solid food in order to lessen the nutritional demand on the mother if she suffers from this disease.
Prevention of this condition is with a high quality diet only. It seems counterintuitive, but supplementing calcium WITHOUT a diagnosis of eclampsia can actually cause the body to stop producing calcium, therefore creating an increased risk for the disease. Never supplement calcium without the supervision of a veterinarian.
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