Postpartum hypocalcemia, also called eclampsia or puerperal tetany, is a metabolic condition most commonly seen in small-breed dogs nursing large litters two or three weeks after whelping.
It is characterized by ataxia, mydriasis, disorientation, tachycardia, and neglect of pups, with possible progression to seizures.
Clients with dogs that have suffered from eclampsia often want to supplement the bitches with calcium during subsequent pregnancies;
however, calcium supplementation during pregnancy is contraindicated.
Margaret V. Root Kustritz
Parathyroid hormone is secreted in response to decreased serum calcium concentrations. The hormone increases calcium concentrations
by promoting osteoclastic activity and increasing calcium uptake from the gastrointestinal tract. Oral calcium supplementation
causes persistent serum calcium elevation with subsequent downregulation of parathyroid hormone. When the bitch whelps and
begins lactating, it is difficult for oral supplementation alone to provide enough calcium since it is poorly absorbed through
the gastrointestinal tract. Because the parathyroid hormone has been downregulated in dogs receiving oral calcium, bone calcium stores cannot be accessed
and hypocalcemia results.
Instead of calcium supplementation, pregnant bitches should be fed a well-balanced puppy or performance food during the latter
half of gestation. Calcium supplementation during lactation will not cause iatrogenic hypocalcemia, so supplementation may
be instituted at whelping.
Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, MN 55108