A breeder recently asked us “What do you recommend for pregnant and lactating bitches? Especially those that are prone to eclampsia like little dogs?” so we thought we’d share the answer with everyone…
Firstly, for those who haven’t dealt with eclampsia before, also called milk fever or puerperal tetany (and touch wood you never have to), it is an acute, life-threatening condition that can affect lactating female dogs and most often occurs in the first few weeks following the birth of a litter.
What are the symptoms of eclampsia?
Initial symptoms of eclampsia include restlessness and nervousness. Within a short time, the bitch will walk with a stiff gait and you may notice she wobbles or appears disoriented. Eventually, she’ll be unable to walk, her legs may become stiff or rigid. She might also have a fever and her body temperature may rise. Respiration rate increases (that’s her number of breaths per minute) and at this point, death can occur if no treatment is given.
As you can image, it pays to be extra paranoid and seek professional advice from your Veterinarian if anything seems out of the ordinary.
When is a dog most at risk of eclampsia?
Eclampsia is more common in young, small-breed dogs who have whelped a large litter in the past 2 to 4 weeks and is especially common in toy breeds, although any age or breed can be affected. A bitch is also more at risk of eclampsia as a result of a difficult or longer than usual labour.
Nutritionally, a bitch is more at risk if she’d been given poor nutrition during pregnancy, is under stress, has underlying illnesses and/or is given excess calcium supplementation.
What can you do nutritionally to reduce the risk?
For a toy or small breed, Nutrience Small Breed Puppy is the best choice, however keep in mind to maintain her on a premium adult formula, like Nutrience Supreme Small Breed for the first 3 weeks of pregnancy.
Then between the 3rd and 4th week, slowly transition her onto Nutrience Small Breed Puppy to meet her and the pups increased nutritional needs as the pups develop.
Your bitch should not have her diet supplemented with extra calcium when she’s on a complete and balanced high-quality diet like Nutrience. Other than the fact that it’s not required as the food provides everything she needs, doing so can actually increase the risk of eclampsia.
For a bitch prone to eclampsia, many breeders now recommend returning to a maintenance formula, like Nutrience Supreme, the week just prior to whelping.
For most bitches however it’s recommended that you stay on the relevant puppy formula until the pups are weaned.
Again, we’d suggest seeking professional advice from your Veterinarian re your choice in adult vs puppy food and when to move between them. A fellow breeder with experience with eclampsia can also be a good sounding board.
Transitioning back to a high-quality maintenance formula allows the bitch’s physiology to adapt to retrieving nutrients from her body’s storage, which can otherwise be blocked or reduced if you provide all or more than is required in the diet.
This is thought to help nutritionally reduce the risk of both dystochia (difficult birth) and eclampsia (uterine exhaustion).
Remember however that diet is only a risk factor, not the primary or only cause or solution, so even if you’ve done everything right with diet you should still educate yourself on the symptoms of eclampsia in dogs and, in case you haven’t heard it enough yet, always seek Veterinary advice. Eclampsia is a condition that cannot be taken lightly.