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Hypocalcemia in Dogs

Posted March 18, 2014 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

What is hypocalcemia?
The term “calcemia” refers to the level of calcium in the blood. Calcium is a natural element found in the body and on the earth. It’s abbreviated on the periodic table as “Ca.”

Hypocalcemia means low calcium, while hypercalcemia means high calcium. Both conditions can potentially be life threatening, and should be treated as soon as possible. Causes and treatment for hypocalcemia and hypercalcemia are very different. Click here for more information on hypercalcemia in dogs.

Diagnosing hypocalcemia
The diagnosis of hypocalcemia is based on two blood tests: a total serum calcium level and an ionized calcium level (often abbreviated iCa). A total serum calcium level is very easy to measure, and most veterinarians can routinely test for this. Normal total serum calcium is approximately 8-11 mg/dL, with significant hypocalcemia being defined as usually less than 7 mg/dl. An ionized calcium level is slightly more difficult to measure, and is only readily available as a send-out test--or at most specialty clinics or emergency clinics. Ideally, an ionized calcium level should be performed as it is more specific and more accurate

Symptoms of hypocalcemia:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Panting excessively
  • Excessive rubbing of the face
  • Walking stiffly
  • Fine muscle tremors
  • Hyperthermia (i.e., elevated body temperature), secondary to tremoring
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Acute death (when untreated)

What causes hypocalcemia in dogs?
Hypocalcemia can be caused by numerous problems. I've included a few of the causes below:

  • Low body protein
  • Kidney failure
  • Eclampsia
  • Hypoparathyroidism
  • Certain types of poisoning (e.g., antifreeze, FLEET enemas in cats, etc.)
  • Rickets (secondary to poor nutrition or an unbalanced diet)
  • Blood transfusions

Low body protein
This is one of the most common causes for a low calcium level. Since some of the calcium in your dog’s body is bound to protein, low protein levels in the body can result in low calcium levels. Often times, low protein may be seen from intestinal or kidney problems (specifically protein-losing enteropathy [PLE] and protein-losing nephropathy [PLN], respectively). Treatment of low protein is aimed at correcting the underlying disease (e.g., PLE, PLN, etc.).

Kidney failure
Kidney failure can result in either a hypocalcemia or hypercalcemia. This is typically due to a renal secondary hyperparathyroidism, which is the body’s attempt to respond to high phosphorous levels.

Eclampsia in dogs is when a nursing bitch suddenly develops a low calcium level secondary to the production of milk. This occurs more commonly in

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Justine has more than 18 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist as well as the CEO and founder of Vetgirl. She is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.