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J.C. Hardin, DVM
Nursing mothers need a lot of calcium to make milk for their babies. Their bodies will put calcium in the milk at the expense of the mother herself. When the mother's blood calcium levels get too low, seizures, (or trembling/spasms in less severe cases), weakness, and high body temperature occur. This syndrome is called eclampsia. Eclampsia occurs more often in second or later litters, with larger litters, and is more likely as pups or kittens get older and demand more milk. Mothers experiencing eclampsia usually need emergency doses of intravenous calcium gluconate. Once she is stable, she can go home on calcium supplements, but her puppies or kittens almost always need to be bottle fed from that point on (see 'Neonatal care information' for more about this). Continuing to allow puppies or kittens to nurse on a mother who has had eclampsi is unwise - she is very likely to have another episode. Eclampsia can lead to death. To help prevent eclampsia, do not feed puppy food or calcium supplements while the mother is pregnant (contrary to what many will advise you to do). There is a gland in the neck called the parathyroid gland. Its job is to keep blood calcium levels normal by causing calcium to be released from bone as it is needed. When you give a lot of calcium supplements, the parathyroid gland gets lazy, and is less able to react when a low blood calcium situation occurs. When a mother has given birth and starts making milk in much greater volumes, a lot of calcium must be made available, and quickly. With a lazy parathyroid gland (caused by calcium supplements prior to birthing), the body cannot keep blood calcium levels up, leading to eclampsia. Feed regular adult dog or cat food when a mother is pregnant, then switch to puppy or kitten food once she has given birth. Feed her all the puppy food she wants while she is nursing her puppies. Keep plenty of fresh water available too, but be sure the puppies cannot crawl into the water bowl. To help prevent eclampsia, especially if this is her second or later litter, add increasingly larger volumes of cottage cheese to her food as the puppies grow. You can taper her off the cottage cheese and gradually reduce her food allowance once the puppies are weaned. Tums tablets (calcium carbonate) can be used as well, but giving too many will excessively neutralize stomach acid, leading to other problems. Occasionally, a mother who has recovered from eclampsia can nurse her puppies for one session per day without undo risk, but she must be monitored very carefully for signs of eclampsia.