Eclampsy is a condition that develops in females that have whelped in the last 3 weeks. This condition is caused by a serious drop in calcium. The gestating female must provide calcium to the foetus’ skeletal bones, and provide more calcium in her milk to promote healthy development of her young. If the calcium intake from her diet is insufficient and/or her litter is too large, then the mother might have a calcium deficiency and develop the associated signs.
The signs related to hypocalcaemia are excessive panting, trembling and weakness. The trembling can sometimes cause raised body temperature, increased breathing and heart rate . If the eclampsy is not treated quickly, the condition may deteriorate quite rapidly, and convulsions will follow. This can cause irreversible damage and even death.
Diagnosis is made with patient history (the female is small, nursing, and has a large litter) and by presented clinical signs. This condition can be confirmed by measuring blood calcium, which would be below normal levels. Since the clinical signs of eclampsy of a nursing dog are quite evident, the treatment will often begin before even having the blood results. Treatment of this condition consists of slowly injecting calcium directly into a vein. Since calcium can be damaging to the heart, we must monitor it during the injection (preferably with an electrocardiogram or by auscultation). A blood test is recommended following treatment to insure that calcium levels have returned to normal and that hypoglycaemia following the attack has not occurred.
To avoid any recurrences, the dog should no longer nurse her babies. If this is not an option for you, then you must wait 24 hours before allowing your dog to nurse again. A calcium supplement will be prescribed. The dog’s food needs to be readjusted to respond to her nutritional and lactating needs and she should be free-fed.
As for preventing eclampsy, a high quality diet must be offered. One that is complete and well-balanced for her gestating and lactating needs. Calcium supplementation during gestation is counter-indicated because it could predispose rather then prevent hypocalcaemia.