I think you all know by now how much we vets talk about how important it is to feed pets the proper pet food, and not to feed people food. Believe me, we're not in the pocket of the pet food companies, and are just trying to help you take care of your pets. Here's another reason why.
Mattie was a little dachshund, about 2 years old. I saw her last week for sudden weakness, incoordination, and overall just acting strange. She had given birth to a litter of 5 about three weeks previously. As I did my exam I noticed a dazed look to her eyes and muscle trembling, even though she was alert and could walk around. My immediate thought was a low calcium level, and lab tests confirmed this. I spoke to the owner, and he said that his wife kept insisting on feeding the dogs hamburger and hot dogs, and that Mattie didn't eat much dog food. That's where the problem was, and he agreed with me.
When a person or an animal is pregnant, the baby (or babies) don't take in their own food. Every bit of the nutrition they get comes from the mother, including minerals. The babies are drawing a lot of calcium from the mom as they begin to develop and grow bones. Mom also draws a lot of calcium from herself by making milk, which the babies further reduce by nursing. If the mother isn't getting any extra calcium in her diet, she will use her own body's stores of it, potentially putting her in a dangerous situation. That's what happened with Mattie. By eating mostly "junk", she was not getting enough calcium in her diet. The pregnancy and nursing of a relative large litter further depleted her.
Calcium is important for a number of reasons in the body. Everyone thinks about it in relation to bones, but it is also essential for proper muscle contraction. Hypocalcemia can lead to poor muscle contraction and coordination, including the heart. This problem can develop rapdily, but thankfully is easilly corrected. I gave Mattie intravenous calcium supplements and she responded quickly, going home at the end of the day. I made sure to have the owner talk with his family and let them know how dangerous this was. Female dogs and cats should be on a high quality puppy/kitten food from the time they become pregnant until the babies are weaned (at around five weeks old). The extra nutrients in the juvenile food will help to support the adult mother during the pregnancy and nursing, similar to prenatal vitamins taken by human mothers.
Mattie is now doing great, and I think the family learned an important lesson. Their bill was a little over $300 last week, and this was a preventable issue if they had only fed the right kind of food. A bag of dog food doesn't seem expensive by comparison, does it?