Milk Fever In Dogs (causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention)
It’s an exciting (and stressful) time finding out your dog is pregnant and taking care of them. Even after she’s delivered her pups there is still so much to know and do to help them. Milk fever in dogs, a common condition that can threaten nursing mums’ lives, is one of them. What is milk fever in dogs, what causes it, and how do you know if your pet is suffering from it? Below we’ve put together all the information you need to know about this potentially fatal condition.
What is milk fever?
Milk fever in dogs, also known as lactational hypocalcemia or eclampsia, is a condition that can occur following the nursing mother’s whelping (giving birth). During lactation (producing milk) calcium transfers from the mother to her pups through her milk. As the mother has access to calcium from both her diet as well as calcium stores in her body (such as her bones), this generally isn’t an issue. However, milk fever can occur when a mother’s calcium levels are depleted beyond her ability to replace the loss. This can result in a life-threatening drop in blood calcium levels.
Milk fever typically beings in the first two to four weeks following lactation. It can, however, be seen as early as whelping and sometimes throughout pregnancy, and up to six to eight weeks after birth.
What causes milk fever?
Excessive calcium loss causes milk fever. But a number of other factors can cause and compound the condition, including:
- Not receiving a balanced diet, particularly one lacking in calcium
- Excessive calcium supplementation prior to giving birth
- When milk production is high, their body can’t keep up with the demand of calcium to produce milk
- Hormonal problems with the parathyroid gland, causing a disruption in normal calcium levels
- Low levels of albumin in the blood, causing a disruption in the transportation of calcium
- Some dogs are prone to producing milk too rapidly
Can dogs be predisposed to developing the condition?
Small breed dogs nursing a large number of pups are more likely to suffer from milk fever. Chihuahuas, English Setters, Miniature Pinschers, Shih-Tzus, and Miniature Poodles are some of the breeds commonly affected. However, this dangerous condition can affect any size of dog.
Some dogs are more prone to milk fever. Dogs who have previously had milk fever will most likely develop it again in subsequent litters. Daughters from mothers who had milk fever are also at a higher risk of developing the condition.
What are the symptoms of milk fever?
Milk fever has a number of signs and symptoms. In the early stages, signs are usually subtle but progress rapidly becoming more severe.
Early signs of milk fever include:
- Heavy panting
- Stiff movements (known as tetany)
- Reduced appetite
Signs quickly progress to include:
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle tremors
- Inability to stand
- Hyperthermia (high body temperature)
- In severe cases, excessive tremors can heat stroke
Milk fever is a potentially life-threatening condition if treatment isn’t sought. Within 30 to 60 minutes of the appearance of symptoms, the condition can become fatal.
What is the treatment for milk fever?
If you notice any of the above symptoms, visit your veterinarian right away. If caught early, the chances of recovery are excellent.
Remove the pups from the mother, keep them warm, and under close monitoring. Take your dog to the veterinarian. They will perform a blood test to verify the diagnosis and determine the blood calcium level as well as any underlying issues.
Treatment may include:
- Calcium is slowly administered intravenously under close monitoring as it can cause changes to heart rhythms
- Intravenous fluids to treat shock and dehydration
- Medication to control seizures
- Active cooling, especially if your pet’s temperature is high
Recovery usually takes a few hours, and in most cases no more than 12 hours in hospital is needed. For severe cases, a longer stay in hospital will be needed to avoid a relapse. Your vet will also prescribe calcium supplements, and the puppies will need weaning and hand feeding.
Is prevention possible?
There are a few things you can put into place to help prevent your dog from developing milk fever, such as:
- Using a high-quality puppy food diet for the mother during lactation to provide adequate calcium
- Providing high quality and balanced adult diet throughout her pregnancy
- Not giving calcium supplements during her pregnancy as it stops the body from recognising the blood calcium levels are below and interferes with the body’s ability to release calcium from the bones
- Assisting the mother by hand feeding her puppies during part of the day to give her body time to replenish her calcium levels
If you’re worried the size of your dog’s litter is putting her at risk of milk fever, or if you have any other concerns, speak with your veterinarian about a plan to avoid it from happening.
If your pet is ill or injured, visit Perth Vet Emergency or your local veterinarian immediately.