The phone rang at 3:00AM. This is never good: I am not pretty and I need my beauty sleep. "Do you make house-calls?" It turns out the guy got up to use the bathroom and found his dog stiff and twitching uncontrollably. "Is this a female dog?" Yes. "Has she had puppies recently?" Two weeks ago. "What kind of dog is it?" Part Rat-terrier and part Feist [I thought those were two different names for the same breed. In fact, I still think that.] She needs an intravenous calcium injection, and I’m going to work… at three o’clock in the morning. I’ll be discombobulated for days.
What you can see are the hardest-working glands in show-business. This gal is running a do-it-yourself dairy, but she failed to read that little disclaimer about "professional driver, closed course, do not attempt". She didn’t see the asterisk: "Results not typical".
This dog is actually not the typical eclampsia sufferer. While I have seen Beagles and even larger dogs with the condition, the typical patient is a very small dog like a Chihuahua. She’s milking heavily. While it might occur even before birth, or at any time during nursing, seven to fourteen days after birth is pretty typical. The bitch cannot cope with the demands of putting so much calcium in the mammary pipelines, and her blood calcium levels get low. When this happens, the nerve-muscle electrical function gets screwy, resulting in uncontrollable muscle contractions. This, like shivering, causes a rise in temperature (though to much higher, even dangerous levels, as high as 107 degrees). Convulsions result and the combination of seizures and high temperature will prove fatal if not treated.
The longer this goes on, the more difficult it is to treat. In early stages, one can almost always achieve a rapid reversal of signs by giving a slow intravenous injection of calcium gluconate. It is miraculous to see the dog return to normal. In more advanced and severe cases, intravenous fluids may be needed to support and cool the patient, and anti-convulsant sedatives may be needed for the seizures, but most can be saved.
We used to think these dogs didn’t have enough calcium in their diets (which certainly wouldn’t help anything). Breeders used to give the bitches calcium supplements. This turns out to be of little help. It is a good idea to feed a high-quality puppy food during the last half of pregnancy and nursing. This provides the extra protein, calories, vitamins and minerals needed for gestation and nursing. However, there are plenty of dogs who have crummy diets and they don’t get eclampsia. The dogs that get it just can’t handle the metabolic stress of nursing, and it doesn’t seem to matter what you feed them.
Since being "milked out" is what stimulates more milk production, you have to quit milking the dog. In other words, the puppies get moved from the mama to the bottle — no more nursing. Since this condition appears to stem from a flaw in mama’s metabolism, she needs to get out of the mommy business. If she has another litter, you can count on another emergency call.
This is really my least favorite emergency, as I can’t be self-righteous about it. It’s not due to neglect or bad judgment. It’s not like letting the dog run loose, or feeding it garbage, or forgetting that you left rat-poison behind the couch. It is a true emergency, in that it just emerges, springing out like Athena from the head of Zeus. Not only that, if I don’t go treat it, the dog will die. It really can’t wait. The only thing the owner could really do to prepare would be to get informed about the problem when the dog gets pregnant, and keep some Calsorb on hand (a rapidly absorbed oral calcium supplement) for emergency treatment at home. Speaking of getting informed, here’s a link to a great article on birthing puppies from Veterinary Partner.