Copyright © 2011 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Ronald M. Bright, DVM, MS, DACVS
Eclampsia in Dogs
Eclampsia is sudden onset of weakness, tremors, collapse, or sei-
zures that is caused by low calcium levels in a nursing (lactating)
bitch. The condition is also known as puerperal tetany or postpar-
tum hypocalcemia . It is most often seen in small-breed dogs that
are nursing large litters. It occurs only rarely in the cat.
Eclampsia develops when calcium stores in the mother’s body
are depleted due to calcium loss in the milk and calcium intake is
inadequate. Heavy lactation (milk production and nursing) usually
occurs for 2-3 weeks after delivery, and calcium loss can be quite
high during this time.
Factors that promote the development of eclampsia include low
calcium levels during pregnancy and poor nutrition after whelp-
ing. Supplementation of calcium during pregnancy may also pre-
cipitate this condition by suppressing the dog’s normal regulation
of calcium levels in times of greater need.
The onset of signs is very sudden (acute). Restlessness and panting
may be seen early in the disease. Other typical signs include mus-
cle twitching and spasms, pawing at the face, disorientation, weak-
ness and wobbliness, and seizures. The dog may collapse and enter
a coma that is followed by death. Muscles spasms and continuous
seizures may result in extremely high body temperatures.
The diagnosis of eclampsia is suspected based on a history or
physical evidence that the dog is lactating and the presence of typ-
ical clinical signs. Further evidence may include the timing of the
onset of signs, the presence of a large litter, and the size of the
dog. A blood test may be recommended to measure calcium levels.
Low calcium levels or a positive response to the administration of
calcium confirms the diagnosis.
TREATMENT AND FOLLOW-UP
Restoring calcium levels to normal is the goal of therapy.
Intravenous calcium is given to those bitches that have severe signs
(seizures, continuous muscle spasms, coma). Severely affected
dogs often require hospitalization with supportive fluid therapy
and measures to lower their body temperature. On discharge from
the hospital, the pups are removed from the bitch for 24 hours or
longer. The dog may be sent home on oral calcium, vitamin D, and
an improved diet.
For those bitches that are only mildly affected, oral calcium sup-
plements and vitamin D may be tried. The puppies may continue
to nurse mildly affected dogs, as long as signs do not worsen.
If signs were severe or if the signs return or worsen despite ther-
apy, then it is necessary to hand rear the puppies after remov-
ing them from the bitch. Should this bitch be bred again, calcium
supplementation started at the beginning of lactation may be
If treatment is started promptly, most bitches usually respond well
to calcium treatment, and eclampsia is successfully controlled.
Dogs that become comatose or have extremely high body tem-
peratures for a long period have a worse prognosis.
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