Source is : 2015 | Diseases | Scientific Services, Royal Canin Pacific

Eclampsia, also called postpartum hypocalcaemia or “milk fever”, is a life threatening condition that occurs in lactating bitches due to low levels of calcium in their blood. It usually occurs within the first two to three weeks of lactation.


The cause for eclampsia in bitches is thought to be associated with a loss of calcium from the bitch to the skeletal development of the foetuses during pregnancy and/or loss of calcium into milk during lactation. Heavy demands during lactation can worsen the hypocalcaemia. Hence, a small breed bitch with a large litter is most at risk, however it can occur in any bitch.


The signs in a bitch are a direct result of the hypocalcaemia and can occur during pregnancy or in the postpartum period during lactation. Panting and restlessness are early signs to look for. Some bitches will develop mild tremors, twitching and muscle spasms, with an obvious stiffness in their movements. Whining, excessive salivating, pacing and disorientation are also frequently observed.

Hypocalcaemia during pregnancy can slow down the progression of labour. The low levels of calcium in a bitch cause weakness, dystocia and ineffective delivery of the puppies.


Hypocalcaemia is life threatening and it is imperative that any bitch suspected to have eclampsia is examined by a veterinarian immediately. The treatments the veterinarian will administer depend on the degree of hypocalcaemia. The goal of treatment is to return the blood calcium level to normal.

Emergency treatment is the administration of a calcium containing solution to effect, whilst carefully monitoring the heart rate and rhythm. The bitch may need to be hospitalised depending on the initial severity of the hypocalcaemia and the response to treatment.

The puppies of a bitch with eclampsia should be removed from their mother for 24 to 36 hours, or until she has returned to normal. During this time the puppies can be fed an appropriate milk replacer.

If the bitch recovers but then suffers from a repeat episode of eclampsia, the puppies should be removed from her permanently and bottle fed until they can transition onto solid food.

The vet may prescribe oral calcium supplementation to be given to the bitch after an acute crisis for the remainder of the lactation period. These supplements will not be beneficial in an acute hypocalcaemic crisis as it can take up to 24 hours for the calcium to be absorbed when fed.


Supplementation of the diet of the pregnant bitch with calcium supplements is not recommended. This can predispose a bitch to developing eclampsia during lactation.

Feeding a high quality, nutritionally balanced and appropriate diet during pregnancy and lactation is crucial in helping to prevent episodes of hypocalcaemia. Supplemental feeding of the puppies with a milk replacer in the first few weeks of lactation may also help reduce stress on the bitch.  

With prompt treatment of eclampsia, the prognosis for recovery is usually excellent. However bitches that develop eclampsia are more likely to develop it again with future litters. 

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