Sometimes even loving pet parents may not always know what their dog needs to live a long, healthy life. There are, after all, a lot of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins like calcium carbonate that can fly under the radar, as it were.
One that is particularly important — and not just for your grandmother anymore — is calcium. Let’s take a look at the role calcium plays in your dog’s health and the problems a calcium deficiency can cause.
What Is Calcium and Why Does Your Dog Need It?
Calcium is one of several essential minerals that, along with magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, among others, play an important role in vital body functions. Among those for which calcium is important are muscle contractions, blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses, and of course, bone growth.
What Is Hypocalcemia?
Hypocalcemia is the term used to describe low levels of blood calcium. “Hypo” is a prefix that means low and “-emia” is a suffix that means blood. Hypocalcemia can cause a number of serious problems for your best friend.
Inflammation of the pancreas, a condition known as pancreatitis, is one problem associated with low calcium levels. Additionally, kidney failure and failure of the parathyroid glands that normally help to control calcium levels can throw off the calcium levels in your dog’s body.
Symptoms of Hypocalcemia
For dogs that are nursing puppies, the production of milk can lead to low blood calcium levels, which can then cause seizures. You also might see the following symptoms:
- muscle twitching
- a loss of appetite
- generalized weakness
How Does Your Dog Normally Control Calcium Levels?
Blood calcium levels are typically controlled by the parathyroid glands in the neck. These glands are part of the thyroid gland which is located below the ‘voice box.’ The glands normally work in conjunction with the thyroid gland.
When healthy, they monitor the levels of blood calcium, and when the levels get low, they produce a hormone called the parathyroid hormone (PTH). That acts to cause calcium to be released from bone stores in order to return the blood levels to normal.
How Does Your DVM Measure Blood Calcium Levels?
Veterinarians use relatively simple, rapid, and inexpensive tests to measure your dog’s blood calcium levels. One test, total calcium, is usually a preliminary test they will use to quickly check your pet’s levels.
Decreased levels of a protein called albumin, however, can cause calcium levels to appear falsely decreased. Albumin carries calcium around in the bloodstream. Therefore, if a total calcium test shows decreased levels, your veterinarian will then using do a second test for ionized calcium.
Ionized calcium is the definitive test for diagnosing hypocalcemia, but it is more difficult to perform and requires your dog to be prepared. Additionally, the sample requires special handling. For this reason, the test is generally more expensive and takes longer to get results.
Therefore, after a test reveals low total calcium, your vet will usually repeat that test, particularly if the albumin levels come back normal. They will ask you to fast your dog for 12 hours but allow him access to water. Then, if the repeated total calcium level is still low, they will do the test for ionized calcium.
If your veterinarian confirms hypocalcemia, they will usually recommend further testing to determine the cause of the problem. They will want to look at kidney health, the pancreas, and the parathyroid glands as well as possible digestion issues that could be related to the problem.
Additionally, since antifreeze poisoning can cause low calcium levels, they will look for that too. If your dog is a nursing female, they will likely consider that to be the cause.
How Is Hypocalcemia Treated?
The answer to this question depends on the cause. If primary hypoparathyroidism is found to be the cause, that is typically treated with lifelong Vitamin D supplements. Dogs can live a long and healthy life as long as they are given those supplements.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium in dog food from the intestines. Most veterinarians will also recommend calcium supplements and other medications. One such supplement is calcium carbonate.
What is Calcium Carbonate?
Basically, calcium carbonate is dog Tums®. It contains oral calcium salt as the active ingredient, and it works as an antacid and phosphate binder, making it an important part of dog health, particularly for dogs with hypocalcemia due to kidney disease.
Phosphate binders help lower serum phosphorus levels that are often increased as a result of kidney dysfunction. Calcium carbonate can also be used, however, for problems like inflammation of the esophagus and gastroduodenal ulcers.
This can help prevent heartburn/indigestion by lowering stomach acid levels. Calcium carbonate, however, is usually used to treat chronic conditions as opposed to temporary heartburn.
Of course, it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian when you’re giving a supplement like calcium carbonate since too much or too little can cause bigger problems.
Side Effects and Precautions of Giving Calcium Carbonate
Calcium carbonate is actually very safe, but there are some side effects in some animals. Of course, as with anything, you shouldn’t give it if your dog has a known sensitivity to it.
You also shouldn’t give it if your dog has high calcium levels since that causes a different set of problems, including the calcification of soft tissues. While the safety of it for pregnant and lactating dogs has not really been well-studied, most veterinarians consider it safe to give to them.
Naturally, you also want to tell your veterinarian of any other medications your pet is taking since drug interactions are possible. If you’re giving other calcium supplements, you could also cause your dog to experience an excess of blood calcium.
Additionally, if your dog has a cardiac arrhythmia and is on a medication like digoxin, you want to avoid using calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is also contraindicated if your dog is on certain antibiotics, like tetracycline and doxycycline, enrofloxacin, or Ciprofloxacin.
Finally, you might not want to give it to your dog if you are also giving him thyroid supplements or certain stomach medications like Pepcid, Zantac, or Tagamet.
How Should You Give Your Dog Calcium Carbonate?
There are different oral calcium carbonate products available, including chews and regular tablets. They come in common sizes — 500 mg, 750 mg, and 1000 mg. There is also an oral suspension if your dog is averse to taking pills.
As with any drug, you shouldn’t give any medication or supplements to your dog without first consulting your veterinarian. The dosage will vary depending on the reason your dog is taking it and how he responds to the medication. Of course, it also depends on your dog’s size.
Small dogs can receive 500 mg when used as an antacid while a medium dog or large dog will have a higher dose. As a supplement, small dogs can receive up to 1250 mg per day, medium dogs up to 2 – 4 grams per day, and large dogs between 4 and 6 grams per day.
For treating excessive phosphate in the blood that’s associated with kidney failure, the common dose is 41 to 68 mg per pound per day. The duration of the medication administration also depends on the condition for which your pet is being treated as well as his response to the medication.
You should plan on completing the entire prescription regimen unless your veterinarian tells you to do otherwise, even if your pet is feeling better. It’s best to give calcium carbonate with food, too, to avoid any stomach upset.
Essential Nutrients with Calcium Carbonate for Homemade Diets
At JustFoodForDogs, we believe that every dog needs access to nutritional meals and supplements. For that reason, we have a whole line of recipes and nutrient blends that include appropriate levels of calcium carbonate as one of the ingredients.
We are dedicated to keeping your dog healthy and happy, and our veterinary-formulated recipes have been designed with that in mind. This includes our renal support recipe for dogs that may be experiencing kidney failure. Your best friend deserves the best, and we aim to provide him with exactly that!