Milk Fever In Dogs – Signs, Treatment, Prevention

Milk fever is a startling condition that has pet owners rushing their nursing canine mothers into the nearest vet.

With symptoms ranging from abnormal personality changes to violent tremors, this condition can be extremely worrying for an unsuspecting dog parent.

So what is milk fever, and what does this diagnosis mean for your canine friend?

In this article we will go into the details of milk fever in nursing dogs, and help you better understand the treatment options available to your pup.

We will be using the terms milk fever and eclampsia interchangeably, as these terms refer to the same condition.

Milk Fever In Dogs

What Is Eclampsia (Milk Fever) In Dogs?

Milk fever, or eclampsia, is a condition that refers to a deadly drop in blood calcium levels in nursing mothers.

Calcium is responsible for multiple roles in the canine body, and is found in small deposits throughout several regions.

Calcium assists in processes involving blood clotting, muscle contractions, and even transmission of nerve impulses.

With calcium participating in vital body functions, you can begin to see why a sudden case of hypocalcemia would lead to serious complications.

What Causes Eclampsia In Nursing Dogs?

The exact cause of each case of eclampsia in dogs is not always concrete, but there are a few factors that are most often tied to the development of this condition.

The pregnancy and nursing process in our canine friends can deplete a mother of their blood calcium levels over time.

Not only does the formation of fetal skeletons require calcium, but a large amount of calcium is lost in their milk as well.

As the puppies begin to grow and consume more milk, this makes it more challenging for the body to replace the calcium lost.

In order to supplement the calcium lost throughout the pregnancy and nursing process, mothers will need to consume a premium diet that is formulated for nursing mothers and puppies.

Inadequate nutrition can not only make it tough for the body to keep up, but it can also lead to significant weight loss.

A proper diet is key in pregnant or nursing canine mothers, and anything below that standard can lead to milk fever.

While this is the most rare possibility, some nursing dogs can develop complications with the parathyroid gland.

These glands are responsible for regulating calcium levels within the blood, so any improper function of the glands can lead to severe health complications.

Eclampsia in dogs seems to be most common in small and toy breeds, especially those who are attentive mothers.

These dogs can struggle to make up for what is lost with around the clock feeding, especially as the puppies begin to consume more milk.

When Do Dogs Usually Get Eclampsia?

Most dogs will typically develop eclampsia when their puppies are 2-4 weeks of age.

This is when the body begins to experience the effect of calcium depletion, especially as the puppies grow and consume more milk.

Though this is the most common time period for milk fever to develop, you should keep an eye out for the condition in all stages of pregnancy and nursing.

Are Some Dogs More At Risk Of Eclampsia Than Others?

Any canine friend can develop eclampsia, but there are some dogs that are more at risk than others.

To help you better protect your pregnant or nursing pup, let’s list a few of the dogs that fall into the high risk category.

  • Small and toy breed dogs
  • Dogs with large litters of puppies
  • Underweight dogs
  • Dogs that experienced eclampsia with previous litters
  • Attentive mothers

What Are The Signs Of Eclampsia (Milk Fever) In Dogs?

When a dog is developing eclampsia while currently pregnant or nursing, you may begin to notice an array of strange behaviors.

Every case of eclampsia can vary from dog to dog, so let’s list some of the most common symptoms of milk fever in our canine friends.

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Ataxia, or unsteady gait
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Fever
  • Appearing confused or disoriented
  • Aggression and other personality changes
  • Twitching
  • Muscle tremors
  • Hypersalivation
  • Inability to stand
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your pregnant or nursing dog, we suggest contacting your veterinarian immediately.

Eclampsia can be deadly if left untreated, so it’s important to seek immediate medical care in these situations.

Is Eclampsia Dangerous For The Puppies As Well?

Eclampsia itself cannot be transmitted to puppies, but they can be harmed when their mother is suffering from eclampsia.

Dogs with eclampsia may appear agitated and confused, even experiencing abnormal aggression in some cases.

Puppies have been injured by their mothers during milk fever onset many times.

Milk fever may even cause a mother to withdraw from her puppies, especially if she is experiencing severe symptoms.

If caretakers do not catch on to their eclampsia as it develops, this can leave puppies without a food source for many hours.

This is especially dangerous for newborn puppies.

Eclampsia can also be deadly if it is left untreated, and the death of a mother can impact puppies if caretakers do not step in immediately.

So while milk fever itself may not directly impact growing puppies, the secondary consequences of the condition certainly can.

Treating Eclampsia In Dogs

Nursing mothers with eclampsia were some of my favorite cases, as most dogs make an immediate and full recovery when prompt treatment is offered.

I can recall multiple dogs with eclampsia that were in and out of the door within a few hours, fully recovered and ready to go back home.

However, this only occurs when immediate and effective treatment is performed.

If a dog presents at the vet with eclampsia, your vet will likely place an IV catheter and administer IV calcium at a slow rate.

If your pup is experiencing seizures as a result of their eclampsia, they may also administer diazepam IV, which is a medication that helps to control seizures and abnormal neurological symptoms.

Once the patient is pulled out of their critical state, your vet can then assess if any other treatment is needed.

Most cases of eclampsia are treated rapidly, but some dogs may need to stay in the hospital for a short period if they are experiencing other complications.

For example, if your dog is continuing to experience abnormal neurological behavior, your vet may feel more comfortable with monitoring them until their symptoms resolve.

Your dog may also need to be monitored for longer periods if their temperature reaches a dangerously high level at any point.

Once your vet feels comfortable with sending your dog home, there are a few continued treatment methods that will prevent your pup from falling back into crisis.

Your vet will likely prescribe a calcium supplement to give your dog orally for the next 7 days, as well as suggesting that you wean the puppies as soon as possible.

If weaning is not an option, your vet will suggest that you at least bottle feed the puppies for the next 72 hours.

Can You Treat Eclampsia In Dogs At Home?

We do not suggest treating your dog’s milk fever at home.

Oral supplements of calcium are not often sufficient in restoring their dangerously low calcium levels, and they will not provide the immediate relief they need from other dangerous symptoms.

If your pregnant or nursing dog has developed any signs of milk fever, we always suggest seeking immediate veterinary care.

If you cannot see the vet for any reason, we recommend that you at least give your vet a call for further guidance.

Should You Give Nursing Moms Calcium As A Preventative Measure?

Supplementing your pregnant or nursing dog with calcium when it is not needed can be dangerous as well.

High levels of calcium in the body can in turn suppress the parathyroid gland, leading to an increased risk of eclampsia in the long run.

The best way to offer your pup a healthy pregnancy and nursing process is by feeding them a proper diet.

Can You Prevent Milk Fever (Eclampsia) In Nursing Dogs?

Now that you are aware of the threat of eclampsia in nursing mothers, you are likely wondering how you can best prevent this condition from developing.

Thankfully for our canine friends, there are a few effective ways to prevent milk fever in your pup.

  • Offering a high quality diet that is approved by your veterinarian
  • Having regular check ups with your vet throughout your dog’s pregnancy
  • Monitoring your nursing mother for any weight loss
  • Being present throughout the pregnancy, whelping, and nursing process

If you have any concerns or questions about milk fever in your dog, we suggest seeking advice from your veterinarian.

Your vet knows your dog’s situation best, and will be able to offer you the best care plan to keep them safe going forward.

Final Thoughts

Though the term ‘milk fever’ may not have a threatening ring to it, it can lead to devastating complications for our pregnant and nursing canine friends.

If you notice any developing symptoms of eclampsia in your nursing dog, we suggest seeking veterinary care as soon as possible.

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