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Milk fever in dogs, medically known as canine eclampsia, is a condition that can develop after whelping (giving birth) to the nursing mother. During lactation (producing milk) calcium is transfer from the mother to her puppies through her milk.

The signs are initially subtle. The female may be restless or panting a lot, and you may notice that she is moving stiffly (also called tetany) which may progress to her being unable to walk. This soon progresses to muscle spasms affecting the whole body, which can quickly progress to convulsing.

Milk fever is commonly seen in small breed dogs nursing a large number of puppies. Breeds commonly affected include Chihuahuas, English Setters, Miniature Pinschers, Shih-Tzus and Miniature Poodles. But no matter the size of breed all dogs can develop this condition.

There are dogs who are more at risk of developing the condition. Dogs who have previously had milk fever will most likely get it again in all subsequent litters. Also, at high risk of developing milk fever are daughters from mothers who had the condition.

Signs of Milk Fever in Dogs

The most common signs are muscle tremors, seizures and fever.
Other signs include:

  • Itchy face, rubbing face on the ground
  • Panting
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Increased vocalisation/whining
  • Weakness
  • Uncoordinated gait (ataxia)
  • Muscle rigidity/tetany
  • An abnormal posture where the back is arched and head is thrown backwards with the limbs straight and rigidly outstretched (Opisthotonos). This is caused by severely strong muscle spasms.

Causes of Milk Fever in Dogs

This can occur because of:

  • Loss of calcium through milk production
  • Diet that does not contain adequate amounts of calcium
  • Calcium supplements that were given during pregnancy that cause the mother to be unable to access the calcium stores in her own body
  • Low levels of albumin in the blood, causing a disruption in the transportation of calcium
  • Parathyroid gland dysfunction, causing a disruption in normal calcium levels

Treatment of Milk Fever in Dogs

If milk fever is treated early, the chances of recovery are high.

Provide us with a full history including dates of whelping (birth), the number of offspring born and the diet provided.

  • We will confirm milk fever with a blood test.
  • A solution of calcium gluconate will be slowly administered intravenously, while the heart rate is being monitored carefully (overdose or rapid administration can cause severe heart rhythm disturbances / cardiac arrhythmia).
  • Intravenous fluids to treat shock and dehydration might be given
  • If the fever is worrisome, the dog might be placed in a cool bath
  • Oral calcium supplements may also be required.
  • Recovery is usually very quick (within hours) and will not require more than 12 hours in the hospital


Feed the mother a high quality puppy food during pregnancy and breast feeding – these are nutritionally complete and balanced, and provide the correct nutrients in the correct proportions.

Avoid feeding calcium supplements during pregnancy as these can reduce your pet’s body’s ability to respond to large demands for calcium. Only give medications that are recommended by your veterinarian.

Sometimes your veterinarian may advise that you supplement large litter’s diets with a milk replacer to reduce the demand on the mother to supply milk.


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