Milk Fever in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Milk Fever in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Milk Fever in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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
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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
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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.

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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 request 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 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.

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Worried about the cost of Milk Fever treatment?

Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

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 (usually puppy food) 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.

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Milk Fever Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Rottweiler

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1 1/2

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Mastits

Had puppies at first liter and can feed puppies after the mother went to the vet and shot and on antibiotics...

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm not actually sure what you are asking If you are asking if the puppies can nurse from the mom, it depends on how bad her situation with mastitis was, and that would be a good question for your veterinarian, as they know more about your dog and whether it will be okay for the puppies to nurse. I hope it all goes well for the mom and puppies.

Oct. 3, 2020

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Husky lab mix

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Two Years

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2 found helpful

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2 found helpful

Has Symptoms

She Gave Birth 4 Days Ago To 7 Infants

I have a 2 yr old female husky and lab mix She had 7 puppies 4 days ago I'm concerned about her someone told me about milk disease

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. . If she is vomiting, having diarrhea, or seems lethargic, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them.

Oct. 17, 2020

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