Eclampsia (Milk Fever)

Eclampsia is a seizurelike condition caused by low serum calcium (hypocalcemia). It usually appears two to four weeks postpartum. At this time there is a heavy drain on the mother’s calcium stores because she is nursing.

Small dogs, particularly toys, are most likely to suffer from eclampsia. Large breeds are seldom affected. Eclampsia is also more likely to occur in dams who have not received optimum nutrition during pregnancy. It also occurs among dams with large litters and, paradoxically, in brood bitches who are given calcium supplements during pregnancy.

Signs of eclampsia are restlessness, anxiety, rapid breathing, and pale mucus membranes. The dam frequently leaves her puppies and paces up and down. Her gait may be stiff-legged, uncoordinated, and jerky. Tightening of the face muscles exposes the teeth and gives her face a pinched look. In severe cases, she falls down on her side, kicks all four legs, and salivates profusely. The rectal temperature may be elevated to 106°F (41°C).

Treatment: Eclampsia is an emergency. Notify your veterinarian at once. Intravenous calcium gluconate is a specific antidote. It is indicated at the first signs of muscle spasms or tremors. If the rectal temperature is over 104°F (40°C), treat as described for Heat Stroke.

Puppies should be removed from the dam and fed by hand. If the puppies are 3 weeks or older, wean as described in chapter 17. After 24 hours, young puppies can be permitted to return to the mother—if she has completely recovered. For the first week, restrict nursing to 30 minutes two or three times a day. If the dam remains asymptomatic, these restrictions can be lifted.

Mothers who continue to nurse should be supplemented with an oral calcium preparation such as calcium carbonate. Continue the supplement for as long as the dam is nursing.