Tag Archives: trembling

For your dam’s sake, know the signs of Eclampsia

Photograph by Sarah Armstrong


Your new litter is doing wonderful, they’re all snuggled in next to mom, squeaking and squirming, gaining weight and growing strong. But something doesn’t seem right with mom and you can’t quite put your finger on it. She’s always loving on those puppies, seems like she’s nursing them round the clock, but her appetite is off, she won’t eat, and she seems so nervous and restless, panting and drooling at times. Her movements were stiff, like an older, arthritic version of herself when she got up to go outside with you, and when you called her to come in from outside she seemed disoriented, like she couldn’t figure out how to get to where you were standing.

These are just a few of the signs of Eclampsia (some folks call this Milk Fever) in it’s early stages. While Eclampsia occurs more often in small or toy breeds, it can affect large breeds like our Gordon Setters too, especially those who have given birth to a large litter, or who have gone through a particularly difficult or prolonged labor. Risk factors include large litter size, prolonged or difficult labor, poor nutrition during gestation, stress, underlying systemic illness and excessive calcium supplementation during pregnancy.

Eclampsia is an emergency medical condition resulting from a life-threatening drop in blood calcium levels. Eclampsia occurs in nursing dams and is most common when the puppies are one to five weeks of age and the dam is producing the most milk.

Signs of Trouble

Eclampsia comes on suddenly. It progresses very quickly. It seems like one minute you have a healthy, lactating bitch with a thriving litter and the next minute she is on the ground convulsing. This is not a wait and see disease…seek immediate emergency veterinary attention at the first sign that something’s amiss.

The symptoms can be subtle at first and resemble those seen before whelping, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Panting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)
  • Muscle tremors or spasms
  • Shaking
  • Twitching
  • Convulsions
  • Tightening of facial muscles
  • Stiffness
  • Aggression
  • Hypersensitivity to touch or other stimuli
  • Continuous, steady muscle spasms without distinct twitching (called “tetany”) Tetany usually presents as rigidity in the legs, unusual pricking of the ears and/or flaring of the nostrils. The signs of eclampsia can advance to where the dog begins to walk in an abnormal, stilted manner and may seem unable to walk in a specific direction.
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness (pruritis)
  • Head rubbing
  • Biting at the feet
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased water intake
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased body temperature (hyperthermia)

If eclampsia is not treated immediately, it can lead to death. Respiration eventually becomes compromised, heart arrhythmia develops and the bitch’s condition deteriorates to seizures, paralysis, coma and death.

To learn more about Eclampsia, including how it is treated, I’ve included reference links below for you.

Merck Veterinary Manual – Puerperal Hypocalcemia in small Animals (Postpartum hypocalcemia, Periparturient hypocalcemia, Puerperal tetany, Eclampsia)

Knowing the Signs of Eclampsia Can Save a Dam’s Life – Best in Show Daily written by Susan Chaney

Sally Gift, Mesa AZ

Photographs by Sarah Armstrong





Why are puppies in my litter weak, trembling and stumbling? Is it Dungd?

Photo by Silvia Timmermann
Photo courtesy Silvia Timmermann

You’re breathing a sigh of relief and finally getting a good night’s sleep after making it through those first couple of touch and go weeks following the birth of your Gordon Setter litter. Then, somewhere between three and five weeks of age you notice some puppies may be weak, stumbling, trembling or stiff at times. They may fall over and not be able to get up, they could be walking backwards or bumping into things and they may be crying constantly for what appears to be no reason. You could be dealing with a rare but fatal neonatal disease first referred to by Gordon Setter breeders (who began the push to identify and research this disease) as DUNGd (Darned Unnamed New Genetic Disease). Because of the responsible and persistent reaction of those breeders further research is underway at the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine where some evidence is reported that DUNGd may be an inborn error of metabolism called an organic aciduria.

Your part in this as a Gordon Setter breeder is to be aware that though rare, DUNGd does exist and could present itself in any litter. If by some chance you face the horror of dealing with this disease the breed needs you to act responsibly to contact those conducting research to help us eradicate DUNGd in Gordon Setters.

Dennis O’Brien DVM PHD, Professor of Neurology, University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine is conducting research and has the following to say about how you can help: “If you have a litter with a pup you believe might be affected, please contact us. We can help you in determining whether or not this is the problem in your pup. In return, we would ask your help in collecting the samples and information necessary to continue searching for the gene responsible for this disease. This work has been generously supported by the Gordon Setter Club and the Canine Health Foundation. Your continuing support will be necessary to achieve our goal. Any information provided to us will be kept strictly confidential.”

The links included at the end of this article will provide much more detail around DUNGd and the ongoing research. We urge you to read them and familiarize yourself with the disease. As always, we encourage you to share your questions or comments.

(This article contains photos that are not intended nor do they relate to the content of the article.)

Contact Information DUNGd research:

Liz Hansen

Animal Molecular Genetics Laboratory




Dr. Dennis O’Brien

Department of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery




Links for additional information:

DUNGd: A Fatal, Neonatal Disease in Gordon Setters

DUNGd: Results of the 2007 – 2008 Acorn Grant

GSCA Health Resources DUNGd

GSCA Health Survey 2004