What is Low Blood Calcium?
Calcium plays important roles in the normal day to day function of the canine body. The growth of the bones, contraction of muscles and blood coagulation are just a few of the ways that the body needs adequate calcium in order to perform properly. When the calcium levels are too low, dogs will display signs indicative of excitement in the peripheral and central nervous systems. Low blood calcium is a relatively common occurrence in dogs who are ill, and therefore, treatment of the underlying cause is paramount to bringing your pet back to good health. Treatment will be aimed and restoring and maintaining blood calcium with some dogs needing lifelong therapy.
Hypocalcemia is the medical term for when the total serum calcium level in the blood is low. There are a myriad of causes for this disorder, including chronic renal failure, acute pancreatitis, and trauma which can result in problems like neuromuscular abnormalities and poor bone formation.
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Symptoms of Low Blood Calcium in Dogs
The parathyroid glands, which are found near the thyroid glands, control calcium by monitoring the blood level of this mineral. Improperly working parathyroid glands can contribute to hypocalcemia. Symptoms resulting from low blood calcium indicate issues in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
- Muscle tremors
- Loss of control of bodily movements (ataxia)
- Intermittent muscle spasms (tetany)
- Loss of appetite
- Behavioral changes
The level of calcium in the blood is described in three ways, specifically ionized, protein bound, and complexed calcium. When the calcium levels of your pet’s blood are measured, they will be done in one of two ways. Total calcium measurement is a simple way to obtain a preliminary idea of how the calcium levels look, whereas an ionized calcium reading will indicate the levels more definitively.
Causes of Low Blood Calcium in Dogs
Low calcium can interfere with important bodily tasks, a result of which can make your dog very ill. If your beloved companion is showing signs of hypocalcemia, a visit to the veterinarian is imperative. He may have an underlying disease that should be immediately addressed before his health becomes more fragile.
- Rhabdomyolysis (destruction of muscle tissue leading to the release of muscle fiber contents in the blood)
- Ethylene glycol intoxication (antifreeze for example)
- Decrease in mobilization of calcium in the bones
- Puerperal tetany (dangerously low calcium levels in nursing dogs, small breeds are prone though all can be affected)
- Gastrointestinal malabsorption of calcium
- Loss of calcium in the urine
- Kidney disease (chronic renal failure is the most frequently seen cause of low blood calcium in dogs)
- Trauma to soft tissue
- Phosphate enema hyperphosphatemia)
- Tumor lysis syndrome
- Surgical removal of parathyroid gland because of overactivity or disease
- Failure of the parathyroid gland to regulate calcium
Diagnosis of Low Blood Calcium in Dogs
Understandably, you will most likely be very concerned when you bring your furry family member to the veterinarian to find out why he has symptoms like muscle tremors, panting, weakness and behavioral changes. It will be very beneficial for the veterinarian to hear all of your concerns, and it is important to relay any information that you feel may be helpful.
Usual diagnostic procedures will include a physical examination with palpation of the abdomen, and verification of muscle mass in the limbs. A urinalysis and fecal smear are normally obtained too, but with hypocalcemia the most definitive way to search for the answer will be through blood testing. A blood test can often point out significant changes that will alert the veterinarian of possible conditions that may be affecting your pet.
Testing of the blood will verify the possibility of kidney disease, pancreatitis, nutritional deficiencies, toxicities, parathyroid gland function, and puerperal tetany to name a few calcium related conditions. With low blood calcium, the blood test is the best way to verify if your pet’s symptoms are caused by this disorder.
Normally, a test done in the clinic when you arrive can alert the veterinarian to a calcium deficiency. She may ask for a re-test, which will involve fasting your dog for 12 hours and returning to the clinic for a second blood test. This method will be able to give a more accurate reading of the calcium level. A specific ionized calcium test could be ordered to get the most accurate reading possible.
Treatment of Low Blood Calcium in Dogs
Treatment for low blood calcium is contingent on many factors. Of course, if your pet is critically ill, he will be admitted to the hospital right away for treatment because of life-threatening dangers. Calcium rich fluids will be administered by IV. Your pet will be carefully monitored as calcium levels can climb to the upper range (hypercalcemia) which is not desired either.
In general, treatment for hypocalcemia will depend on factors that your veterinarian will take into account:
- Has an underlying disease been found, and if so what is the prognosis
- How fast did this event of hypocalcemia develop
- What are the severity of signs in the dog
- What are the calcium level readings
In cases of mild hypocalcemia, fast acting oral medication and oral vitamin D may be the best therapy. Each case is specific, depending on why the calcium level is low. For example, puerperal tetany requires a slow infusion of IV fluids and a weaning of the pups from the mother. Pancreatitis would involve hospitalization if severe, to stabilize your dog and treat the illness, which in turn, should correct the hypocalcemia. Hypoparathyroidism will be treated with oral calcium supplements and vitamin D unless there are serious clinical signs, which means an admittance to the hospital for IV.
Recovery of Low Blood Calcium in Dogs
Follow-up for an illness such as low blood calcium will require frequent retesting of the blood at intervals of weeks to months until the veterinarian is confident that your pet’s system is stable and acute recurrence will not be at risk. In many instances, there may be a need for long-term therapy to keep the calcium levels as they should be. Some canines may be able to stop the medication and supplements in a tapered fashion under the guidance of your veterinarian. The prognosis for hypocalcemia is good to guarded, depending on the severity of the cause, the general health of your pet, and the response to treatment,
Low Blood Calcium Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a chichuaua puppy, she was brought to me at 2 weeks of age. She is now 9 weeks old. She has had 3 episodes of falling all over the place(no balance), lethargic, just lays around looking confused. I give her milk when she is like this and she gets better. What could this be??? Plz help my little fur baby!?!?
There are various different causes for low blood calcium and they should be discussed with your Veterinarian. I assume you are visiting your Veterinarian regularly to get Bear his vaccines as he is under 16 weeks old; so a blood test would indicate calcium levels as well as other parameters which may help determine a cause. Diet, vitamin D deficiency, kidney problems, hormonal conditions and other may cause the symptoms you describe. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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