Simply put, hypocalcemia is low blood calcium. We’re all well aware of the importance of calcium but sometimes we’re not exactly sure why calcium is important. Not only is calcium related to maintaining healthy bones but it is also and important factor for our muscles. Calcium is necessary for muscle contraction throughout the body from the beating of the heart to the movement of food through our digestive system. Calcium is also known to activate enzymes which regulate a variety of body functions.
Typically, calcium is stored or used in different sites of an animal’s body. It is found in our bones, muscles, and even blood. The amount of calcium present needs to be very carefully regulated and too much calcium (hypercalcemia) or too little calcium (hypocalcemia) can be dangerous. In cases of hypocalcemia the body may actually “steal” calcium from the bones and in cases of hypercalcemia the kidneys remove calcium from the blood and it is excreted in urine. These mechanisms are controlled by hormones: parathyroid hormone and calcitriol. When animals suffer from parathyroid hormone deficiency this leads to hypocalcemia.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of hypocalcemia are usually related to parathyroid hormone deficiency. Hypocalcemia, in fact, is more like a symptom than a disorder. Still, when there are low levels of calcium in your pet’s body muscle control becomes distorted, the nervous system is excited, and seizures may result. Pet’s suffering from hypocalcemia may also behave nervously or appear disoriented. In addition, they may appear drunk, will likely have a fever, and may have weak pulses, muscle tension, and twitching. Painful muscle cramps are also associated with hypocalcemia. These cramps often make pets very irritable and sometimes aggressive. Finally, it is also possible for your pet to die if calcium levels fall too drastically. Hypocalcemia is most often associated with breeds of dog such as the toy poodle, miniature schnauzer, the Labrador, German shepherd, dachshund, and terriers.
Diagnosing hypocalcemia requires blood and urine tests. The causes of hypocalcemia include hypoparathyroidism, low albumin levels, renal failure, pancreatitis, magnesium deficiency, malnutrition, bone cancer, or antifreeze poisoning. A veterinarian who suspects hypocalcemia will order a blood test and urinalysis in order to determine the exact cause behind the hypocalcemia.
In severe cases of hypocalcemia where your pet is having seizures or tremors and calcium levels are dangerously low then your veterinarian will insist on hospital treatment. Calcium will be delivered intravenously and your pet will need to be monitored closely. After this critical period has passed, further calcium treatment will be required. Usually an oral calcium supplement is the easiest way to ensure your pet is receiving enough calcium. Within a few days your pet will already start to see the benefits of calcium supplementation. Sometimes veterinarians will recommend calcium injections under the skin as well.
In general, treatment of hypocalcemia will need to focus on the underlying cause. For example, in cases where bone cancer is causing calcium levels to drop then calcium supplementation will be done in addition to treating the cancer. Without treating the underlying causes hypocalcemia will recur.