Lactating bitches, milk fever and oral calcium supplements

Bitches have a huge demand for calcium in the very last stages of pregnancy when the puppy's bones harden, during uterine contractions when giving birth and when lactating. Calcium is pulled from the bones to supply this demand in normal pregnancy and lactation and also the gut becomes more efficient at using calcium in the diet.

Problems can occur if the normal diet is poor or unbalanced (calcium/phosphorous balance is incorrect), if the bitch goes off her food in late pregnancy, or if the owner mistakenly supplements calcium during pregnancy, as this switches off the normal mechanism to pull calcium from the bones.  Problems occur most often in small dogs, very large and usually in the first 21-45 days of milk production.

Eclampsia or milk fever is caused by low blood calcium - signs include panting, muscles tremors, stiff gait, anxiety, aggression and a raised temperature. Severe cases have seizures, coma and possible death. Any of these signs in a lactating bitch are an emergency and need urgent veterinary attention.

ADVICE TO OWNERS

  1. Feed a good quality maintenance food during pregnancy then introduce premium small breed puppy food as lactation establishes. Avoid all-meat diets or organ meats as these have an incorrect calcium/phosphorous balance.

  2. Feed smaller more frequent feeds in late pregnancy. Free feed premium puppy food while feeding puppies unless the bitch is fat.

  3. Consider oral calcium supplement in dogs that refuse to eat the above - after birth not before!

  4. Use calcium supplement after veterinary treatment for milk fever and in any subsequent litter a bitch has, if she has had previous episodes.

  5. Start to wean pups from 4 weeks old and consider partial hand feeding of very large litters to ease the pressure on mum.