Calcium is an essential component of the skeleton and has important functions in, among other things, muscle contraction, blood clotting, enzyme activity, the nervous system and hormone release. Many different metabolic disorders affect calcium metabolism and can lead to calcium levels that are too high or too low in the body.
RISK OF HYPOCALCAEMIA
The most common disorder of calcium metabolism in dogs is postpartum hypocalcaemia (calcium deficiency), otherwise known as postpartum tetany, eclampsia or lactational tetany. It is a life-threatening condition that manifests 2 to 3 weeks after the puppies are born when the mammary glands produce the greatest amount of milk. It most commonly affects small breed dogs with large litters, although postpartum hypocalcaemia can occur in any breed of dog, with any litter size and at any time during the lactation period. Hypocalcaemia is most likely due to loss of calcium in the milk and too little calcium in the diet.
SIGNS OF TETANY IN THE DOG
The early clinical signs are panting and restlessness. Convulsions, tics, muscle spasms, stiffness and incoordination may also occur. The dog may become confused, hypersensitive and aggressive, as well as whimpering and drooling. Severe tremors, repeated and prolonged muscle spasms, accelerated heartbeat, fever, epileptic seizures and even coma may occur. Usually, a dog affected by tetany appears healthy and its puppies develop well. Sometimes the clinical signs of hypocalcaemia may already appear before or during birth. The disease may then contribute to ineffective contractions and slow delivery, without causing other clinical signs.
The initial diagnosis of tetany is based on the dog’s health history, physical examination, clinical signs and response to treatment. Appropriate tests should be performed to determine calcium levels to confirm the diagnosis. Dogs diagnosed with hypocalcaemia require immediate veterinary treatment, so the quickest way is to test the blood. However, it is best to act prophylactically and already test your dog’s calcium levels before or during pregnancy. Here, a coat mineral test will work best.
THE ADVANTAGE OF A SERUM TEST IN THE PREVENTION OF HYPOCALCAEMIA
The coat, unlike blood or urine, gathers information on the changes taking place in the mineral economy of the whole body, thus giving a factual and more accurate picture of nutritional excesses and deficiencies and toxic burdens than body fluids.
The blood test does not represent the state of mineral balance in such an accurate way because its composition is regulated at the expense of other tissues and organs (such as the coat), by taking from them the nutrients that are missing or 'shifting’ to them that are present in excess. It is for this reason that the examination of the coat accurately illustrates the actual nutritional status of the animal organism.
Veterinary treatment of hypocalcaemia consists of intravenous administration of calcium solutions, which usually results in rapid improvement within 15 minutes. Puppies should not be fed for 12 to 24 hours. During this period they should be fed a milk substitute or other suitable diet. If they are mature enough, they should be weaned. After an acute crisis, calcium supplements are given until the end of lactation. Vitamin D supplements may also be used to increase intestinal absorption of calcium. Blood calcium levels are usually monitored weekly.
Postpartum hypocalcaemia is likely to recur with future pregnancies. Preventive measures in dogs include feeding a high-quality, nutritionally balanced and adequate diet during pregnancy and lactation, providing adequate food and water during lactation, feeding puppies supplemental milk replacer early in lactation and solid food after 3-4 weeks of age, and elemental analysis of the dog’s coat – before, during pregnancy and lactation.
Oral calcium supplements should not be given during pregnancy, as this may cause rather than prevent hypocalcaemia after the pups are born.