Hypocalcemia is life-threatening in adult dogs, more so in young puppies whose bodies are not strong enough to withstand the ravages of illness. At the first sign of illness, even if you are not sure whether or not it may be hypocalcemia, seek medical care for your puppy.
In the simplest of terms, hypocalcemia is the lack of enough calcium in the bloodstream for the body to function properly. Calcium is necessary for muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve impulses, hormone secretion and bone growth. The clinical definition of hypocalcemia in dogs and puppies is a level below 6.5 mg/dL. The normal range is 9 to 11.4 mg/dL. In pregnant dogs, it is called eclampsia and can put the mother and puppies at risk. Hypocalcemia is sometimes referred to as hypoparathyroidism, and the two are closely linked, since deficiency in parathyroid hormone can cause it.
A puppy with hypocalcemia may pant heavily, shiver, have seizures, twitch, vomit, lose coordination and become weak. Less obvious symptoms include irregular heartbeat, fever and joint paint. A puppy can have low calcium without showing symptoms; often by the time visible signs appear, the situation is serious. If your puppy shows any signs of hypocalcemia, or you suspect a problem, contact your veterinarian right away.
Poor diet can be one cause of hypocalcemia, but there is a long list of other possible causes. The most common cause is a low level of albumen -- the condition hypoalbuminemia -- which accounts for nearly half of all cases. This is because calcium binds to albumin in the blood, and so a low level of albumin results in a low level of calcium. Other common causes include kidney failure, thyroid problems, accidental poisoning, rickets and pancreatitis.
Treatment and Prevention
A puppy with hypocalcemia needs immediate treatment, since the condition can be life-threatening. The exact course of treatment will be determined by the veterinarian depending on the underlying cause. Your vet will likely run a number of tests, including one to determine the severity of the problem and several others to determine the cause and to check albumen levels as well as kidney function. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often part of the prescribed treatment, along with treatment for the underlying cause. Feed your puppy a healthy diet, keep him out of the garbage and away from poisonous substances and plants, and schedule healthy pet checkups to catch problems early and avoid a serious case of hypocalcemia.
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