Calcium is an essential component of the diet at all stages of an animal’s life. The puppy, the pregnant and nursing mother, and the very large breeds all require special consideration. After weaning, the rapidly growing puppy relies on its owner to provide it with proper amounts of calcium.
Fortunately most modern pet foods provide an adequate amount of calcium with the correct ratio of calcium to phosphorus. Occasionally veterinarians see cases where the correct calcium requirements have not been met.
Diets composed almost entirely of meat and liver can lead to problems. These foods contain large amounts of phosphorus and relatively small amounts of calcium. The ideal ratio of calcium and phosphorous for good health is 1.2 to 1. When a diet of all meat is given, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus becomes 1 to 22, or in the case of a liver diet, the ratio may be as high as 1 to 50.
Puppies with incorrect ratios of calcium to phosphorus can develop defects in their bone structure. Lameness first occurs and gradually becomes more severe until the puppy is unable to run and jump, and fractures of its long bones readily occur. Its general growth is stunted and development of its teeth is badly affected.
The diet of puppies should include a good quality commercial dog food as well as meat, some form of milk either whole or dried, and a calcium supplement preferably in the form of calcium carbonate.
Unfortunately too much calcium supplementation can also be harmful. The feeding of massive amounts of calcium salts together with a diet too high in energy sources and protein can cause excessive bone being deposited in the joints of the legs, producing a severe lameness.
The condition has most often been seen in the very large breeds of dogs where owners have been encouraged to guard against a possible deficiency in their rapidly growing puppies by feeding excessive amounts of calcium supplements and even going to the extent of administering regular calcium injections.
The precise calcium needs of the growing puppy can be calculated according to the amount of meat and other forms of food used. Your veterinarian is best able to advise on the correct amount of supplement required and the best form to use.
Pregnant and nursing mothers require special consideration of calcium.
A diet relatively low in calcium often occurs in pampered dogs which refuse to drink milk during pregnancy and which will only accept whole meat meals.
Fortunately, many dogs become so ravenous after they have delivered their puppies that they forget their food fads and accept a more balanced ratio. The same rules of supplementation apply to the pregnant animal as to puppies. The correct calcium to phosphorus ratio must be maintained.
Nursing mothers have difficulty in absorbing enough calcium from their daily intake of food to make up for the loss of calcium to the puppies via the milk. The body reserves of calcium are steadily depleted and in the case of a small dog feeding a large litter, a point can be reached where calcium cannot be mobilized quickly enough and the blood-calcium levels fail.
Lowering of the blood-calcium level produces dramatic symptoms. The dog first begins to breath very rapidly, becomes weak on its legs, and if untreated, is unable to stand and can eventually lose consciousness.
Fortunately, an intravenous dose of calcium quickly reverses the condition and the dog returns to normality within a few minutes. The most common time for this eclampsia or “milk fever” to occur is about three weeks after the puppies are born.
Proper supplementation of the bitch and the speeding up of the weaning process of the puppies usually prevents the condition recurring. The calcium reserves of the bitch are not restored until well after the puppies are taken from her, so extra calcium should be supplied for some weeks.