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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.

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 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.

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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.

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Milk Fever Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Morkie

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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Had

Momo had calcium deficiency can't nurse her pups but is EXTREMELY upset and wants to go to them. Is that okay as long as I don't allow her to nurse. I put clothes onto cover her and allow her to clean them? I did once today and it calmed her greatly. Want prof advice B4 doing again

Sept. 5, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. I do think that it would be okay to let her see the puppies, as it is probably very upsetting to not see them. It is going to be difficult to learn not have them nurse, and you're going to need to monitor that closely. You may need to bottle feed them while they are with her. I think that would probably be helpful for her to be able to see them. I hope that all goes well with her

Sept. 5, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Muscle Tremors

My labrador, Licah gave birth 4 days ago and had 9 puppies. the puppies are healthy and well but Licah seems really restless and scratches the walls alot. she also had an episode where she froze for five seconds while she was sitting. she also frequently scratches her nose by rubbing her face on the ground. do you think she has milk fever, and is it curable if identified at this stage?

July 12, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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1 Recommendations

hello, I worry that your dog has a low calcium level. Muscle tremors are commonly seen in mothers with low calcium shortly after giving birth. This is something that can be correct but your dog needs to see a vet right away. They can give her IV calcium and get her to feeling much better very quickly. I hope your dog starts to feel better very soon.

July 12, 2020

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Porky

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Yorkshire Terrier

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Panting
Nervous
Nervous Panting

My yorkie just had a singleton Boy 2 days ago. Ever since she gave birth to him she kept panting and it never stopped. She pants heavily and every so often cry’s out like she wants to go outside to potty but the second I let her out she cry’s to come back to her puppy. At times she will rest while the puppy is eating and she won’t pant but every so often she starts to freak out and starting panting and wanting out of her playpen only to want to go back in shortly after. She is a first time mom and the puppy she had was a big one for her and it took her 1 hour from start of hard labor to get him out. She did yelp in pain as he was coming out as he was a huge 6.1oz pup. Could she be having milk fever ? Her body temp is 100.8

Aug. 18, 2018

Porky's Owner

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Panting after whelping is normal and may occur for days or even weeks after whelping; with eclampsia we normally see it around the fourth week (range one to five weeks) after whelping and is associated with large litters. It is possible, but the symptoms don’t fit for me; however the only way to know for sure is a blood test to check serum calcium levels. Keep an eye on Porky for the time being and visit your Veterinarian if you have any concerns. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://wagwalking.com/symptom/why-is-my-dog-panting-after-giving-birth

Aug. 18, 2018

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Amber Dyson

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Great Dane

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2 Years

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Fair severity

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My Great Dane just had her first litter 10 days ago. She had 7 pups that are thriving and she is doing so well with them. However, this evening she all of a sudden randomly got up and ran to the front door like she was going to throw up, but she was stumbling and could not walk straight at all. I let her out and followed after her and she dry heaved for a minute and then collapsed to the ground and laid there with her front legs spread out in a weird position. We offered her water that she refused. She finally moved back to the front porch and laid down and seemed cold like she was shivering. We just pet her for about 20 minutes and she eventually got up and has seemed fine ever since. This was about 5-6 hours ago and she hasn’t showed any other symptoms since then. Help?!

April 24, 2018

Amber Dyson's Owner

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2 Recommendations

Without examining her and checking serum blood calcium I cannot really say what the specific cause of this episode was; you should ensure that she is kept warm, is being fed a lactation diet and is otherwise comfortable. I think you should visit a Veterinarian since the symptoms were quite severe and we don’t want them to occur again. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

April 24, 2018

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Bella

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Bichon Frise

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Panting And Increase Breathing

Hi my dog just had a litter of 5 puppies but the first one passed away and now she is on day 3 of postpartum and she has been panting a lot and breathing quite quickly could this be milk fever or something else?

April 23, 2018

Bella's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Bella may have milk fever, or she may have an infection or a retained placenta or fetus. Since she just had the puppies, and the first one did not survive, it would be a good idea to have her examined by a veterinarian to make sure that everything is okay with her. They'll be able to assess her and determine if she is having a problem. I hope that all goes well for her.

April 23, 2018

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Munchie

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Pug

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Heavy Panting

my pug has just come through milk fever had then necessary treatment no more panting how soon can I return pups to mother was just panting for a long time after whelping anxiety Salivation Heavy panting

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Luna

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Pit bull

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3 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Loss Of Appetite
Panting
Whining
White Gums
Loss Of Muscle Movement

Hi my name is Deanna, my 3 year old Pitbull gave birth to 1 puppy about a week ago. She recently passed away on 4th of January. She was fine after she gave birth, but she didn’t wanna leave the puppy’s side. She started to eat but not really but did drink a lot. She would go outside sometimes but other times I would have to get her to go out. She did a lot of panting and whining but though it was because she was tired and hot. Saturday January 4th around 4 am I woke up and smelled that she used the bathroom on herself. She could not get up nor feel anything. She was barely breathing, her body temperature was cold and she produced a lot of saliva, and her gums were very pale/white. Couldn’t get her to drink water. Didn’t response to her puppy when it was whining. Called the vet for an emergency and was going to bring her in and after I got off the phone she suddenly quit breathing and she ended up passing away. I don’t know what exactly happened. I believe this is what happened by looking at the symptoms but can it also cause gums to be pale?? If not this then I need help finding out what happened to baby girl Luna :(

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