Calcium is Not Always Good

Image of a woman kissing her dog.

When examining a blood panel, a veterinarian may report to the owner that a pet has hypercalcemia, which is an elevated level of calcium in the blood. The owner often then wonders if there is too much calcium in the pet's food or in the vitamins or supplements the pet is taking.

Ingesting calcium in food or canine nutritional supplements will not cause an excessive blood level. There are some diseases, though, that can cause hypercalcemia. The first thing your veterinarian will do though is to repeat the calcium test as sometimes there are false positive tests. If the second test is normal, the pet does not have a problem.

The most common cause of a high calcium level is cancer. In about half of the cases of hypercalcemia in dogs the cause is lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Lymphoma most often causes lymph nodes to swell, but it may localize in the liver, intestine, spleen, heart, brain, spinal cord, or kidneys. Tumors of the anal glands, and less frequently, other tumors, can also cause high calcium levels. Blood tests can determine if the calcium problem is due to cancer.

Disease of one or more of the small parathyroid glands in the neck can cause hypercalcemia. A small benign tumor on a parathyroid gland can cause too much hormone to be produced, which then causes the calcium level to be too high. It is possible for a skilled professional to find these small masses on an ultrasound.

About one-third of Addison's Disease cases have high calcium levels. Addison's is a disease where too little cortisol is produced. These dogs usually act sick, with weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea often seen.

Excessive Vitamin D or similar compounds can cause a high level of calcium. These can be found in human vitamin supplements, some rat baits, and psoriasis medication made for people. Dovonex and Taclonex are brand names for prescription psoriasis creams that are especially dangerous to pets as even a small amount can cause death in pets when ingested.

Why Do We Care if the Calcium is High?

It can be very dangerous as it can cause mineralization of blood vessels, the stomach lining, and the kidneys. The kidney disease can be so severe it leads to failure.

Your veterinarian will do blood tests, and possibly chest x-rays and an abdominal ultrasound to determine the cause of the high calcium. Treatment will be directed at the underlying cause. If lymphoma is the cause, chemotherapy may be started which should lower the calcium level. If there is an anal gland tumor, surgery is indicated. Addison's Disease is treated by supplementing the hormone that is low; this may be by a daily pill or by an injection that is given every 25 days.

If the high calcium persists, or an underlying cause cannot be found, the general treatment for hypercalcemia is hospitalization with intravenous saline fluid, Lasix, and sometimes steroids.

The prognosis for hypercalcemia depends on the severity of the underlying cause. Addison's Disease can usually be well controlled. Lymphoma dogs respond to aggressive chemotherapy for an average of one to two years. If an anal gland tumor can be caught very early, surgery may be curative. Your veterinarian will investigate and determine the cause of the high calcium and discuss the prognosis and treatment plan with you.

Sources:

"Hypercalcemia Diagnosis in Dogs". Pacific Tide Newsletter, Vol 10, Issue1, Oct 2012

Pet Poison Helpline, http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com

Location

Find us on the map

Office Hours

Our Regular Schedule

Monday:

7:00 am

6:00 pm

Tuesday:

7:00 am

6:00 pm

Wednesday:

7:00 am - 12:00 pm

2:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Thursday:

7:00

6:00

Friday:

7:00 am

6:00 pm

Saturday:

8:00 am

2:00 pm

Sunday:

Closed

Closed

Testimonials

Read What Our Clients Say

  • "Thanks for the great peace of mind when I bring Oreo in . . . I know he is always getting the most technically advanced treatment that veterinary medicine has to offer! Thanks so much . . . I trust my best friend in your hands! Thanks so much for all that you have done for us!

    You guys are the best pet clinic in the area--really!"
    Steve & "Oreo"
  • "Dr. Gonzales, thanks for making my life easy when it comes to bringing Hershey in to the see you! Although, I think he may have a crush! I am convinced it's a crush . . . or those treats are doggone divine! But how could any four-legged creature resist? In all seriousness, thanks for providing Hershey and me the finest. most complete pet care available . . . with a lot of love. I have seen a lot of vets in the past and your genuine love and care is truly rare."
    Jennifer & "Hershey"
  • "Thanks to the Drs and professional staff at Pets First Veterinary Center. I feel like you all truly love what you do! Every time I come in to see you, both me and my kitten have had such a pleasant experience. Everyone is so friendly and knowledgeable--I'm really impressed! Ever since I moved to San Antonio you have made me feel so welcome to the area and to your family."
    Jack & "Jill"
  • "Thanks Dr. Gonzales for your loving and professional care for our newest family member! We appreciate you and your staffs' genuine concern for all our pets for the past 10 years. We have always felt like we have been treated as part of the Pets First Veterinary Center family. Its so reassuring to know that we don't have to worry when we leave our dog for medical treatment or a boarding stay. Thank you so much!"
    The Johnson Family & "Magic"
  • "I think the world of Dr. Wright. Not only does she and team at Pets First Veterinary Center provide the best veterinary care possible, but also unmatched personal service and of course lots of love! I trust you with my most precious posessions...and refer all my friends and family to Pets First Veterinary Center.

    Thanks so much to all of you!"
    Maya, "Amor & Abrazo"