What Is Eclampsia in Dogs?
Eclampsia is most common in small breed mothers when her puppies are two to four weeks old.
Calcium is needed for most of the important functions in a pup’s body.
When calcium becomes dangerously low, it can quickly become life-threatening.
When a nursing dog is making large amounts of milk, she can use up her body's natural calcium stores and develop eclampsia.
While eclampsia is not common in dogs eating a proper diet, it’s the cause for about a quarter of emergencies related to breeding females.
Eclampsia is a medical emergency. If you suspect your dog has eclampsia, get her to an emergency veterinarian immediately; it can become life-threatening within hours.
Symptoms of Eclampsia in Dogs
Symptoms of eclampsia in dogs include:
Weakness or inability/unwillingness to walk
Muscle spasms or twitching
High body temperature (fever)
Most dogs with eclampsia start with mild signs. They tend to pant a lot and be restless and walk around stiffly.
This usually rapidly progresses to trembling, weakness, and seizures.
Causes of Eclampsia in Dogs
Eclampsia occurs when a dog’s calcium supply becomes dangerously low.
Mothers that are more attentive to their puppies have a higher chance of developing eclampsia.
Eclampsia most commonly occurs two to four weeks after the puppies are born, when their mother’s milk production is at its highest. The high amount of milk a mother is making takes too much calcium from her body. This can also happen during pregnancy, when the mother’s body is using its stored calcium to form her puppies’ bones.
Giving oral calcium supplements to mothers during pregnancy can lead to eclampsia instead of stopping it. A dog’s body thinks it has enough calcium, so they stop making natural calcium. This, in turn, leads to a shortage.
There are some diseases of the parathyroid gland that can also affect calcium levels and result in eclampsia, such as hypoparathyroidism.
Finally, poor diet during pregnancy or nursing can play a big role in developing eclampsia.
When a mother’s body uses large amounts of her calcium to feed her puppies, it is very important that she be fed a balanced, nutrient-rich, high-quality diet.
Feeding commercial diets labeled for pregnant or lactating (nursing) moms or growing puppies—instead of normal adult dog food—is recommended during pregnancy and lactation.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Eclampsia in Dogs
Eclampsia is usually diagnosed based on a history of recent pregnancy and/or lactation and clinical signs.
Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical exam. They may recommend blood work or X-rays.
Serum calcium levels can be found through bloodwork, but treatment is often started right away if eclampsia is suspected.
If your dog is ill, it’s important that you tell your veterinarian if she is pregnant or nursing puppies; this may affect how quickly treatment is given.
Treatment of Eclampsia in Dogs
Eclampsia is treated by fixing the calcium shortage.
This is done by slow intravenous (IV) injection by your veterinarian. They will likely place an IV catheter and start your dog on IV fluids, in addition to IV calcium, to fix any dehydration or electrolyte shortages your pup may have.
Because eclampsia becomes life-threatening so quickly, it’s almost always treated on an emergency basis in a veterinary clinic rather than at home.
If your dog is having seizures, your vet may give her anti-seizure medications such as midazolam or diazepam.
If your dog has a fever, cooling mechanisms (like cool IV fluids or rubbing alcohol on your dog’s paw pads) may be used until her body temperature falls below 103 F.
Calcium is involved in muscle contraction of the heart, so it’s important that the heart rate be closely watched while the imbalance is fixed.
Your dog may be attached to an electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor their heart while being treated.
Your vet may also decide to admit your dog into the hospital and keep her on IV fluids, depending on the severity of her eclampsia. Severe cases can lead to cerebral edema, which is fluid on the brain.
In some cases, once the initial imbalance is fixed, a dog can be sent home for continued outpatient treatment with injections under the skin or oral medications.
Your veterinarian may recommend oral calcium carbonate tablets and vitamin D supplements after getting your dog stable when she is discharged from the clinic.
Tums® are often recommended at home following a diagnosis of eclampsia until your dog stops producing milk.
Recovery and Management of Eclampsia in Dogs
When treated immediately, affected dogs usually recover well from eclampsia. Recovery is often very fast with your dog returning to normal behavior within hours.
After getting your dog home, try to keep her comfortable and allow her to rest. If she had seizures or spasms while her body lacked calcium, she may be exhausted after the ordeal.
Keep her apart from her puppies for 12 to 24 hours, so the pups can’t latch to her or nurse right away.
Eclampsia will reoccur again in 20% of patients if they go back to nursing when they return home.
For that reason, switching to formula or weaning is recommended if the puppies are old enough. If they're under 4 weeks of age, switch to formula and bottle feed them.
If they are over 4 weeks of age, wean them the traditional way by transitioning to commercial puppy food.
When buying formula, purchase a high-quality milk replacer like Esbilac®.
Puppies less than two weeks of age should be fed every three to four hours, while puppies two to four weeks of age can be fed every six to eight hours.
Puppies older than four weeks can begin the weaning process and start to eat commercial puppy food.
It's important to note that if a dog has had eclampsia in the past, they are likely to have it again with future litters if they continue to breed.
Prevention of Eclampsia in Dogs
The best way to prevent eclampsia in dogs is to feed a good, high-quality commercial pet food that is made for pregnant or nursing mothers.
Often, you can do this with food made for puppies instead of adults, as these diets have more vitamins and minerals.
Supplementing with calcium during pregnancy is not recommended. This can increase a dog's risk of developing eclampsia.
If your dog is pregnant and has suffered from eclampsia with past litters, your vet may recommend supplementing with oral calcium, like Pet-Cal®, after she has given birth and is nursing.
Talk to your vet before starting any supplements to ensure they're the right choice for your dog.
If you have a small breed dog with a large litter of puppies, consider giving her multiple small breaks throughout the day—away from her pups—so she can eat and rest.
Be sure she always has access to plenty of food and water.
Start giving puppy food to the puppies, in addition to nursing, when they are three to four weeks of age.
This will help to supplement their calorie needs so that they don’t need as much milk from their mother.
Eclampsia in Dogs FAQs
What diet can I feed my dog with eclampsia?
Feed your dog a high-quality commercial dog food labeled for pregnant or lactating moms or puppies. These diets are higher in vitamins and minerals and should help to meet their nutritional needs.
How much does it cost to treat eclampsia in dogs?
The cost of treatment varies depending on whether it happens during regular office hours and how severely your dog is affected.
Average treatment costs can range from $300 to $1,500.
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