All breeders or prospective breeders should be aware of two potentially serious conditions affecting the recently whelped bitch. Both are serious conditions requiring urgent veterinary attention and there still exists some confusion in some breeders’ minds about the causes.
Milk fever in dogs occurs typically between 1 and 4 weeks after whelping. The bitch is in perfect health and the puppies are well-grown and have very healthy appetites.
If the condition is observed in the early stages, the bitch may stop suckling the litter and sit apart from the puppies with an apprehensive expression.
If made to walk she does so with difficulty and may fall over and start to have severe muscle spasms. The owner naturally suspects that the dog is poisoned or is having an epileptic fit.
If these early signs have gone unnoticed the bitch may be found unconscious, cold, and breathing irregularly. This often occurs the morning after the owner had put an apparently perfectly normal bitch to bed.
The cause of these alarming symptoms is the lowering of the blood calcium level. The demands of pregnancy and subsequent feeding of the puppies have made great inroads into the calcium reserves of the bitch.
If these have not been supplemented with adequate levels of calcium in the diet, the bodily reserves of calcium may eventually be so depleted that the calcium level in the bloodstream falls below a critical point and the symptoms of hypocalcemia, described above, occur.
In very large litters in large breeds of dogs, or in very small dogs with large demanding puppies, the loss of calcium in the milk cannot be made up fast enough from the bitch’s calcium reserves and a sudden fall in blood-calcium triggers milk fever symptoms.
Treatment is fortunately dramatic in its effectiveness. An injection of a calcium solution revives the bitch within minutes.
It is absolutely vital that this injection is given intravenously because the bitch’s circulation is so poor that very little calcium will be absorbed by any other route of administration. Under no circumstances should anything be given by mouth, because the swallowing reflex is affected.
Adequate levels of calcium carbonate should be provided in the diet and supplementary feeding of the litter should be considered to limit the further demands on the bitch.
The second post-natal problem also can occur very suddenly. Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland which, in many cases, is caused by the staphylococcus group of bacteria.
The bitch suddenly resents the puppies suckling from a particular gland, it is reluctant to move or eat, and the affected gland feels very hard and hot. The dog is usually running a high fever and is in considerable pain.
Veterinary attention should be sought without delay as the infection can spread to other tissues and a life-threatening septicemia may develop. As the bacteria usually resist penicillin, broad-spectrum antibiotics are required.
Very often the infection has damaged the blood supply to the affected mammary gland and an abscess develops which ruptures to the outside, leaving a large hole in the mammary tissue. Although this process looks alarming, the bitch is often much relieved because its fever quickly subsides and much of the pain disappears.
Once a bitch has had mastitis it is wise to consult your veterinarian before the next pregnancy, because a prophylactic course of antibiotics during the first week of pregnancy may prevent a recurrence of the problem.