Do you have a dog that is either pregnant or has recently given birth to a litter of puppies?
Is your dog still nursing those puppies?
If you answered yes to either of these two questions, there are a number of things you can and should do to ensure the proper health and well-being of both the mother and her pups.
Just as human mothers require specialized nutrition during this important development period, so too do female dogs that have recently given birth.
One of the top nutritional concerns for dogs in this situation is to make sure they are getting enough calcium in their diet.
To elaborate further on this point, below we will briefly explain the importance of calcium for a nursing dog, and list some of the signs and symptoms that may point to a deficiency.
We will also discuss just how much calcium should be added to the diet of mother dogs, either through the food you provide them or through supplements.
The Importance of Calcium for a Nursing Dog
Calcium is a nutrient that is very essential to a dog’s health and well-being, even when that dog is not nursing pups.
However, it becomes even more crucial for new mothers.
When dogs are nursing, the calcium in the milk they produce is being fed to their pups.
So naturally, this calcium needs to be constantly replaced during this period to ensure the continued health of the puppies and the mother.
Here are just some of the reasons why calcium is so crucial for dogs:
- Healthy bones and teeth. We all remember our moms urging us to drink our calcium-laden milk in order to “have strong bones.” Well, the same is true with dogs. Dogs rely on calcium to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, and when this mineral runs low, tooth decay and brittle bones can be the result.
- Proper heart function. The heart is a muscle that relies on constant contraction to pump blood to the organs and extremities of a dog. These contractions—at least the right type of contractions—are partially dependent on the mineral calcium.
- Blood clotting. Without the suitable amount of calcium in the body, blood clotting is made very difficult. This can result in blood loss and even death during exterior and interior bleeding events.
- Good digestion. Calcium helps the organs of a dog’s gastrointestinal system work properly.
- Proper nerve function. Just like humans, a dog has millions of nerves that control everything from barking to walking. Proper functioning of those nerves—and the hub of the nervous system, the brain—is dependent on a sufficient amount of calcium in the bloodstream.
Signs and Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency in a Nursing Dog
When dogs do not get enough calcium while nursing, their health can become severely compromised.
So why might a dog’s calcium levels drop while nursing?
There are actually a few ways this can happen.
The two most common reasons are:
- Loss of calcium because of nursing. The most common cause of calcium deficiency in nursing dogs is the loss of that calcium during the nursing process. In cases such as these, the calcium that would normally support the mother’s health is lost in the milk they provide to their pups.
- Calcium-deficient diet. When nursing dogs are not given enough calcium in their diet, the level of that mineral in the body can, of course, become depleted.
When dogs either lose calcium through their milk, or are not fed calcium-rich foods while pregnant, they can develop a very serious condition known as eclampsia.
When it appears in female dogs, this condition, which is also called hypocalcemia or milk fever, usually happens when she is nursing.
This is called postpartum eclampsia.
Rarely, the condition can also happen during the pregnancy (prepartum eclampsia) or immediately during the act of birthing (parturition eclampsia).
So what types of signs and symptoms might your pregnant or nursing dog experience when eclampsia sets in?
Here are just a few:
- Shaking. Also called tremors, this shaking can occur throughout the body.
- Weakness. Weakness and fatigue are hallmarks of postpartum eclampsia.
- Partial paralysis. Also known as puerperal tetany, this is a very serious symptom that can bring about challenges in both standing and walking.
- Excessive panting. A lot of tongue wagging and panting is another common sign of eclampsia.
- Restlessness. It may seem like your dog is restless or not comfortable anywhere.
- Muscle spasms. These muscle spasms and tics can affect the face, torso and extremities.
- Vomiting. In severe cases of eclampsia, vomiting can set in, leading to dehydration.
- Behavioral changes. Because calcium deficiency affects the nervous system, you may notice odd changes in your nursing dog’s behavior.
Other symptoms of postpartum or prepartum eclampsia include movement fluctuations, increased salivation, elevated body temperature, seizures, confusion and even death should the low levels of calcium persist.
How Much Calcium to Give a Nursing Dog
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule on just how much calcium to give a nursing dog.
That being said, it is clear to experts that nursing/lactating dogs require up to 50 percent more than the usual amount once they have given birth.
This will ensure that both mother and her pups are getting an adequate amount of the mineral.
So how much is the “usual amount” of calcium for a healthy dog?
Vets say you should be providing at least 50 milligrams of the mineral each day for every kilogram of your pooch’s body weight.
That means a healthy adult dog weighing, say, 10 kilograms, should receive 500 milligrams of calcium per day.
Add 50 percent for a nursing dog and you get 750 milligrams each day during lactation.
Most dogs get the calcium they need from the food they eat.
Nursing dogs, however, will need a little boost in their calcium intake.
There are two ways you can achieve this: through supplementation and through foodstuffs.
Kelp and seaweed supplements are rich in this mineral and offer a quick and easy way to provide the extra calcium boost a nursing dog requires.
There are also many foods that are rich in calcium—foods you can add to your nursing dog’s diet.
Eggs and (especially) ground eggshells are both great options, as is bonemeal.
Other options include yogurt and some fish species, such as trout, tuna, salmon and sardines.