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What is Milk Fever?

Eclampsia can affect any size and breed of dog, but seems to affect small breed mothers with large litters the most. The early restlessness seen in mothers can progress into spasms, then into seizures, which can negatively affect the brain and lead to death. When hypocalcemia occurs during birth, it can lead to ineffective contractions that can slow down labor and lead to a difficult birth.

Milk fever, also referred to as eclampsia or hypocalcemia, is a condition in which calcium levels in the bloodstream drop in nursing mothers due to lactation. Most commonly, milk fever occurs within one to five weeks of the birth of the puppies, but it can occur before or during birth. This is a life-threatening condition that progresses quickly, and needs immediate medical attention.

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Symptoms of Milk Fever in Dogs

Normally, the mother and puppies can appear healthy before the mother begins to show subtle signs of rigid limbs, panting, and spastic movements. Once these signs appear, the condition can turn fatal within 30 to 60 minutes if left untreated. Heavy panting can lead to respiratory alkalosis in your dog, while continued seizures can cause fluid accumulation and swelling in the brain. Signs your dog is suffering from milk fever include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle twitching and spasms
  • Limb rigidity
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing 
  • Whining
  • Disorientation
  • Aggression
  • Shivering 
  • Puerperal tetany, a type of paralysis causing an inability to walk or stand
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Salivation
  • Hyperthermia, or an increased body temperature
  • Weakness 
  • Abnormally fast heart rate
  • Convulsions 
  • Tremors
  • Seizures 
  • Vomiting
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Slowed labor during parturition

Causes of Milk Fever in Dogs

Milk production requires a lot of energy, which is gained through a balanced diet before and after the birth of the puppies. Normally, the loss of calcium through lactation is not a problem for the mother because she compensates by accessing calcium from her diet or from calcium stores in her body. There are times when the amount of calcium that is lost from lactation is not replaced, which results in a decreased level of calcium circulating in the bloodstream. This can occur because of:

  • Loss of calcium through milk production
  • Diet that does not contain adequate amounts of calcium
  • Calcium supplements that were given during pregnancy that cause the mother to be unable to access the calcium stores in her own body
  • Low levels of albumin in the blood, causing a disruption in the transportation of calcium 
  • Parathyroid gland dysfunction, causing a disruption in normal calcium levels 

While milk fever can occur in any breed and size of dog, it does seem to occur more often in smaller breeds with large litters. Breeds that are commonly affected include:

  • Chihuahuas
  • English Setters
  • Miniature Pinschers 
  • Italian Spinone
  • Shih-Tzus
  • Miniature Poodles

Diagnosis of Milk Fever in Dogs

Once you notice any symptoms of milk fever in your dog, you need to stop the pups from suckling and seek medical attention immediately, as the progression of milk fever is quick and can become fatal within the hour. Relay to your veterinarian any symptoms you have noticed, as well as factors such as when symptoms began, the mother’s diet, the size of the litter, and the size and health of the puppies. 

Your veterinarian will normally examine your dog and take a blood sample. Through blood and serum testing, your vet can assess the levels of calcium, albumin, and the parathyroid hormone in the blood. These levels can point to a diagnosis of low blood calcium or to the reason for the decreased calcium levels. An electrocardiogram may also be performed to analyze heart function. A diagnosis of milk fever is confirmed through the results of testing and with response to treatment.

Treatment of Milk Fever in Dogs

Treatment of milk fever seeks to replace and balance calcium levels in your dog’s body, while dealing with the puppies’ nutrition. The first step is to stop the puppies from suckling on the mother by separating them.

Treatment of Mother

Intravenous calcium is slowly given to the mother over 5 to 30 minutes to replace the calcium in her body. Often, improvement is seen in 15 minutes with muscle relaxation. Other drugs may be given, such as anti-seizure medications, and other conditions, such as hyperthermia or low albumin levels, are also treated as needed. The heart rate is monitored throughout treatments for any irregularities with an ECG or stethoscope.

Calcium and vitamin D for increased calcium absorption are added into the diet for long term maintenance and can prevent a relapse of milk fever. Your vet may require weekly check-ups to monitor the levels of calcium in the blood. The mother should be fed a balanced and high energy diet, such as wet or puppy foods. 

The puppies should be removed from the mother during the first few days of treatment to allow her body to be able to replenish calcium levels. She should then be monitored for mastitis, or swollen mammary glands. A warm compress can relieve any discomfort of overfull glands, while an abdominal wrap or small t-shirt can be used to cover the teats if separation from the puppies is not possible. 

Feeding the Puppies

The puppies need to stop suckling at their mother for at least 12 to 24 hours. Your vet may recommend a longer time for this separation. If the puppies are under 4 weeks old, they should be fed an appropriate milk substitute. They may be able to suckle from their mother for short periods, but this could still compromise the mother’s health. If the puppies are older than 4 weeks old, they can be weaned and encouraged to eat puppy food.

Recovery of Milk Fever in Dogs

With quick treatment, many cases of milk fever can be completely resolved with calcium replacement therapies. If paralysis has occurred, symptoms may not resolve with treatments and your veterinarian will discuss your dog’s recovery based on her condition. If your dog has suffered from hypocalcemia due to lactation, the condition may recur with future litters. 

You may need to separate the puppies from the mother and provide adequate nutrition to replace the mother’s milk. The mother’s diet may be changed, and you may need to add supplements to prevent a relapse of the condition during the remainder of her lactation cycle. You may also need to take your dog to your veterinarian weekly to monitor her calcium levels.

You can help to prevent milk fever in your expecting dog by providing a good quality and balanced diet throughout pregnancy and lactation, providing food and water during lactation as desired by your dog, and supplementing the mother’s milk with milk replacer to the pups early on in the lactation cycle. It is not recommended to supplement calcium during the pregnancy as this can lead to a condition of milk fever.

Milk Fever Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Jack Russell Terrier
3 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Vomiting, muscle spasms

Medication Used

Calcium supplement

Hi, my Jack Russell had 5 puppies that are 2 1/2 weeks old, she suddenly came down with milk fever, raced her to the vets and he said she was not too bad stage and administered calcium injections and gave her injection for vomiting he also have injection for vitamin d. Was told to take her away from puppies and hand feed them and keep giving the mother calcium supplement after bringing her home and she rested and looked and seems to have recovered very quickly but is missing her puppies terribly, was wondering since catching the milk fever early and for the mother to have recovered so quickly is it possible that she could go back to feeding her puppies a.fter a couple of days recovery thank you. Indi's owner

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
655 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. The puppies need to stop suckling at their mother for at least 12 to 24 hours. Your vet may recommend a longer time for this separation - since I can't examine her, it would be best to call your veterinarian and ask, since she did seem to recover quickly and you did catch it early, they may be okay to put back with her.

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2 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms


My dog gave birth to three puppies but the problem is that when she nurses she pants and it been 4 days is it normal ? She also did have a fever we took her to the vet and got medication.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2123 Recommendations
Panting for a week or two after whelping isn’t unusual and is expected; we get concerned when there is foul smelling discharge, fever, weakness or other concerning symptoms. You should keep an eye on Lola for the time being and visit your Veterinarian again if you have any concerns. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Akita, malamute
7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Whining, panting, diarrhia

My dog had puppies 3 days ago. Now she seems to have a fever and diarrhea. All she wants to do is lay outside under my porch. I've got her fever to go down and she is eating and drinking water but I am worried about her. She had 13 puppies but 2.passed away the first night. She is also still dropping blood out of her. The father of the puppies is a catahoula leopard cur mastiff mix

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
655 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. It would be best to have Copper seen by a veterinarian, as she is an older dog, and 11 puppies are a lot of puppies to be nursing. Your veterinarian will be able to examine her, assess her body condition and do any lab work or recommend any treatments that may be necessary. I hope that she is okay.

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2 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Medication Used


My dog Daisy had puppies on Friday from 2:30-11:30; 6 in all. The runt died Saturday...not sure what happened to it. Today, Daisy just acted odd like she was sad and breathing hard. Took her to vet and he said she has milk fever.

He admin 10 cc of calcuim in vein; then I brought her home in couple hours we were back at vet were he gave her more calcium

This time he sent me home with some to admin in couple hours, then we were back in couple hours at vet because all she was doing was lying down not moving or lifting her head up.

Pups have not nurses since the morning around 10, we finally got them to suck a makeup sponge to get milk vet gave me.

Daisy is still not doing well, how do you know when she has had to much calcium? She keeps throwing up, and is back not feeling well again.

I am really concerned because now she is having a hard time standing! Should I give her more calcuim?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2123 Recommendations
If Daisy is having these symptoms after whelping, it may be best to have her admitted with the pups for observation so that her blood calcium levels can be monitored. Daisy may also be in pain, tired or may have other issues running concurrent to the lack of calcium. I would certainly suggest admitting her for observation. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Miniature Pinscher
1 Year
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

Has Symptoms


My dog is suffering from seizures. I researched and it is probably because of evlampsia. She just gave birth 2 weeks ago to 6 puppies. Now she's having seizures at the moment. But vet clinic is closed at this hour. What should i do? I already gave milk and water orally

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
655 Recommendations
Thank you for your question. If she is having seizures, she needs to be seen at an emergency veteirnarian. If there isn't a 24 hour clinic near you, your veterinary cinic will have a contact for after hours care on their answering machine. If she is having eclampsia, there isn't anything that you can give at home, she needs to be seen. I hope that she is okay.

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