Pregnancy toxemia is common in all species that have multiple births but by managing mom we can avoid this issue all together. However, if it does happen, a quick response will save both mom and her puppies.
What is Pregnancy Toxemia in Dogs?
Canine pregnancy toxemia happens when mom does not take in enough calories to supply the needs of the puppies she is carrying. It often occurs late in pregnancy when the puppies are growing fast and the embryos are removing more protein and fat from mom’s body than her diet is supplying. If her diet isn’t giving her the energy she needs, mom’s body will naturally break down her protein and fat stores in order to maintain the pregnancy and get her puppies to term. Nature literally knocks mom off her feet to maintain the puppies.
A byproduct of excess protein and fat breakdown is high levels of ketones. These ketones are flushed out in urine and blown off by the lung, but if we do not get the ketone issue corrected quickly, mom will become poisoned with the byproducts of this protein and fat breakdown. What we get then is a mom that feels bad, won’t eat and can’t stand up easily, if at all.
What Does Pregnancy Toxemia Look Like?
A dog with pregnancy toxemia will first slow and go off food. This is a big red flag. At this point it is critical to step in and correct the protein-fat issue quickly. Some people can smell the ketones on mom’s breath; it smells like cleaning fluid or acetone. That cleaning fluid smell is ketones being blown off. To confirm, veterinarians will use a urine dip stick on mom’s urine. Urine is usually clear of ketones, so if the urine dip stick reveals ketones, that confirms pregnancy toxemia.
How to Prevent Pregnancy Toxemia
It is possible to prevent pregnancy toxemia. When a mom backs off food in the last 20 days of pregnancy, it becomes an emergency. First, use canned food and warm gruel to help increase calories. If mom is totally off food, hand feed her with meat baby food, canned meats, Triage or canned cat food. Canned cat food is okay to get mom eating again and it is high fat and high protein. Tiny breeds especially will eat cat food before they will go back on dog food because of the smell. It usually takes three days of hand feeding to get mom’s appetite to kick in, causing her to eat puppy food again. You still want to feed canned food gruel twice a day to get her back to food first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
If pregnancy toxemia sets in, our goal is to get mom to term. She usually will go a bit early from stressed puppies. It’s important to be there during labor since many of these moms need help birthing a litter. They just don’t have the energy required. A high percentage of toxic moms will lack energy for the last few puppies and go to a C-section. In mild cases, we can intervene early with a high fat, high protein supplement. This corrects the issue so we get a normal litter all alive. In severe cases, mom has to be hand-fed to term and a high percentage of these cases lose half of the litter. If this is the case, keeping mom healthy and getting as many breathing babies as possible is the goal. In a very severe case, we may have to end the pregnancy in order to save mom’s life. But we hope it never progresses to that stage. Intervene early!
Any mom can get pregnancy toxemia, but moms that carry a large litter are most prone. They just fail to take in enough fat and protein calories to keep up with litter demand. When mom goes off food, intervene early, offer fat and protein and hand feed if you must. Puppies double their weight during the last two weeks of gestation and that makes managing late pregnancy moms worth caring about!
Want help preventing pregnancy toxemia in dogs? Call our Pet Care Pros at 800.786.4751. They have the experience and knowledge to help you manage and prevent pet care challenges.
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Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM
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.