Breeding, Nutrition, Puppy and Kitten Care
How to Use Colostrum Replacers & Calcium for Dogs
November 29, 2022
How to Use Colostrum Replacers & Calcium for Dogs
Last reviewed: November 22, 2021 by the Revival Education Team
Colostrum Supplements for Dogs
One commonly misunderstood management tool is the use of a colostrum replacement product. Many think colostrum supplements for dogs contain the actual colostrum from a dog. However, this is not the case.
Colostrum substitutes are from dairy cows' colostrum as dairy cows may give us 20 gallons of colostral milk in a day. Cow colostrum does not contain the same antigens to disease that dog colostrum contains, but it does contain some common proteins that all mammals have in colostrum. It is these common proteins that are centrifuged out and put in gel for colostrum replacement. The same idea is used in foal colostrum substitutes.
What Does Colostrum Do for Dogs?
Orphan puppies or kittens that don't receive colostrum are difficult to raise. Because they don't have any borrowed resistance from mom's colostrum, orphans tend to catch every disease organism that comes by them. Colostrum replacement allows us to effectively raise an orphan without the benefit of mom. We use the colostrum substitute daily for seven days to provide the gut with common proteins that can bind viruses or bacteria and carry them out of the system (or hold the viruses until the immune system has time to deal with them). Either way, the colostrum substitute is not absorbed and used as mom's colostrum would be used.
Sick, nursing puppies are often given colostrum gel as a treatment. Nursing puppies with diarrhea are easily managed with gel twice daily. Most nursing diarrhea can be solved if we just manage mom to come into milk at birth rather than one to two weeks after birth. If you see diarrhea issues at one week old, manage away from the issue of moms being slow to come into milk.
The puppy that is 25 percent smaller than littermates has a 50 percent chance of having issues the first 10 days of life. Why not intercede and help this baby? Breeders have been effectively raising these high-risk babies by giving a colostrum replacement once daily for the first week. In the past, we called them runts, but in actuality they are often just a few days younger than littermates. Mom did not ovulate all the eggs at the same time, but all were born the same day. You can raise them if you give mom a little help – mom will do the rest!
When Should a Mother Dog Take Calcium?
Calcium gel should be used early during labor and delivery. Breeders often use calcium gel after delivery to prevent Eclampsia, but giving it before and during delivery is more effective at getting the litter on the ground. When the female starts nesting (early labor) or their temperature drops one degree, give mom the first dose of calcium. The goal is to get three to four doses in mom before the first puppy is born. Calcium helps to efficiently dilate the cervix and get the first puppy on the ground quicker. This way mom doesn't get worn out from a long delivery. Once all the puppies are born, she can mother better because she won't be so exhausted.
Once labor starts, the puppy at risk is the one not yet born. Slow delivery stresses puppies and sometimes results in uterine inertia and a C-section on the last few puppies. This is hard on mom and definitely hard on puppies as they are often shorted oxygen with slow birth. Oxygen-deprived puppies are ineffective nursers, and this can result in the death of the puppy. We give calcium gel early to prevent seeing calcium deficiencies and C-sections later.
How Much Calcium Do I Give My Dog During Labor?
We are not hurrying labor with calcium gel; we are giving mom the tools for effective contractions during labor. Effective contractions will get puppies on the ground. In fact, the goal is fewer, more effective contractions per puppy because then mom is not so tired and puppy is not as stressed.
Mom's demand for calcium is high once labor starts, especially with milk production starting at the same time. Calcium is the lube that causes the uterine muscles to slide past each other, resulting in effective, strong contractions. We do not give calcium to mom before she goes into labor. We want mom's system to gear up in late gestation to manage the minute-by-minute calcium need. Used at the correct time, calcium gel supplementation will help mom do her job effectively.
Once we know mom is going to give birth (in labor), we give one cc/10 pounds for dogs under 40 pounds and one cc/20 pounds for dogs over 40 pounds. Giving calcium early allows mom to effectively dilate the cervix so the litter can be born. Calcium gel does not have to be swallowed to be absorbed. It can be absorbed through the membranes of the mouth. We can repeat the dose just before or after the first puppy is born and then use when needed if labor slows. We know this is a low dose, but it is effective so that is where we stay.
Treatment dose is five times that high (one cc/4 pounds) and is used when moms are showing signs of calcium deficiency. Calcium deficiency signs such as milk fever, no labor progress, non-responsive to Oxytocin, or nervous post-whelping and not nursing are all responsive to calcium. It is best to prevent issues but in cases where clinical issues exist, we increase our dose.
Both colostrum substitutes and calcium gel are good management tools if you understand how they work, when to use them and what we are trying to accomplish.
If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.