Parturient paresis (milk fever) is a hypocalcemic disorder caused by the onset of lactation in the dairy cow. In most cows a complete recovery follows a single iv calcium treatment to correct the acute hypocalcemia. However, about 20% of cows treated for parturient paresis experience recurring episodes of hypocalcemia (relapses) requiring further treatment. Analysis of plasma from 8 nonrelapsing parturient paretic and 11 relapsing parturient paretic cows revealed differences in plasma 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25-(OH)2D] concentrations before and during the development of hypocalcemia. In nonrelapsing cows, plasma 1,25-(OH)2D increased to 4- to 5-fold as plasma calcium concentrations declined during the first stage of parturient paresis. In relapsing cows, decreases in plasma calcium concentrations during the first stage of parturient paresis were accompanied by just a 2- to 2.5-fold increase in plasma 1,25-(OH)2D. Plasma 1,25-(OH)2D eventually increased 4- to 5-fold in the relapsing cows, but this response was delayed 24-48 h compared with the response in the nonrelapsing cows. Plasma PTH concentration profiles were similar in relapsing and nonrelapsing cows, suggesting that renal 25-hydroxyvitamin D 1 alpha-hydroxylase was temporarily refractory to stimulation by PTH in the relapsing cows. In both groups of cows recovery from parturient paresis began about 12-24 h after plasma 1,25-(OH)2D concentrations had increased 4- to 5-fold. These data imply that lack of production of 1,25-(OH)2D is an important factor in predisposing the cow to relapses of parturient paresis and is critical for recovery from the hypocalcemia associated with the onset of lactation.