Disorders of Calcium Metabolism in Dogs

Calcium constitutes the major portion of the bone tissue. However, this mineral is essential not only for the health of the skeletal system, but also for the proper functioning of the muscles and the nervous system, the production and activity of hormones and enzymes, clotting of blood etc. The metabolism of calcium in dogs is affected by metabolic diseases and disorders which may result in the increase or decrease of the blood levels of this mineral.

Puerperal hypocalcemia In Dogs

This disorder is the most common among the calcium metabolism disorders affecting dogs. This condition is also known as puerperal tetany or postpartum hypocalcemia. It is referred to as eclampsia too. Usually occurring within 2-3 weeks of giving birth to the puppies, this potentially fatal disorder is the result of heavy milk production by the mammary glands. Postpartum hypocalcemia can develop in any breed, even though it is more often seen in the smaller breeds, particularly when they have large litters. However, it may also occur with smaller litter sizes, and can strike at any time while the dog is lactating. The utilization of the calcium store in the body for the production of milk, combined with a deficiency of this mineral in the diet of the dog may be the cause of this disorder.

The initial symptoms of puerperal hypocalcemia are restlessness and panting. These may be followed by muscle spasm, twitching, or tremors. Body stiffness and lack of coordination may develop. Aggressive behavior and hypersensitivity may be displayed by the dog. Disorientation, drooling from the mouth, whining and pacing are other symptoms. Fever may develop, accompanied by increased heart rate, severe contraction of muscles, and seizures which may lead to coma. These symptoms suddenly appear in an otherwise healthy dog and progress rapidly. Puerperal hypocalcemia may occasionally appear even before the dog gives birth, and sometimes during the process of parturition. In such cases, the labor may progress slowly due to contractions being weak and ineffective, but other clinical symptoms may not be present.

Puerperal hypocalcemia is diagnosed from the symptoms as well as the history of the dog. The veterinarian may conduct a physical examination, and initiate tentative treatment if the disorder is suspected since this condition can progress rapidly and may even endanger the life of the dog unless prompt remedial measure are not taken. A favorable response to the tentative treatment is indicative of the disorder, but testing the blood levels of calcium gives a definitive diagnosis.

Intravenous administration of supplemental calcium usually brings about immediate improvement, often within a quarter of an hour of starting the infusion. The dog should be given rest, and should not be allowed to feed the puppies for at least a day or until she recovers sufficiently. While the mother is being treated, the puppies should be given milk supplements or semisolids, depending on their age. They can be weaned if they are over 4 weeks old. If the disorder recurs once she resumes feeding, the puppies should be weaned irrespective of their age, and hand-raised instead.

Once the dog recovers from the disorder, calcium supplementation is continued during the entire period of lactation. Supplemental vitamin D is usually prescribed along with calcium as this vitamin helps in the absorption of the mineral. Blood tests are done every week to check the calcium levels.

If a dog has had puerperal hypocalcemia following its first pregnancy, it usually recurs after every subsequent pregnancy. The disorder can be prevented in the dog by giving it a well-balanced diet with sufficient amount of calcium, not only during lactation, but during the pregnancy also. Plenty of water and food should be made available to a lactating dog. In addition to feeding the mother a calcium-rich diet, the puppies should be given supplemental milk early enough to partially wean them off their mother’s milk. Solid food may be introduced when the puppies are about 3 weeks old.

Giving calcium supplements to pregnant dogs should be avoided as it is found to be not only ineffective in preventing this disorder, but to be increasing the risk of developing hypocalcemia following whelping.

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