Bringing puppies into the world is an incredibly exciting time for owners and it’s easy to get lost focusing on these cute little creatures. However, it’s also an important time for you to be regularly checking on mum’s health too. Birth can be a traumatic time for your dog and, as such, there are a number of health issues that can arise including mastitis in dogs.
Keep reading to find out more about mastitis in dogs, including possible causes and the signs to look out for, so you can help to keep your nursing dog and her puppies healthy and happy.
What is mastitis in dogs?
Mastitis in dogs is defined as inflammation of the mammary glands – often as a result of infection. It’s most commonly seen in female dogs when they’re nursing, but it can occur in any dogs, including males. If your dog has mastitis, it’ll cause the mammary glands to swell and become very painful when touched, which can be particularly problematic in nursing bitches. This is because if infection is present it can be transferred to pups via the milk – which can be very serious. Gland inflammation may also make dogs reluctant to allow their puppies to feed, as suckling is often very painful.
What causes mastitis in dogs?
The most common cause of mastitis is trauma to the teat, which means bacteria are able to enter the teat canal and travel up to the mammary gland, resulting in infection. Unhygienic conditions can also cause mastitis in dogs, as exposure of the teat to bacteria and irritants can result in infection, even when the teat is undamaged.
Although it’s rare, sometimes mastitis can occur without an infection. This is usually the result of direct trauma to the mammary gland, or prolonged periods of milk accumulation without removal, which can lead to inflammation.
Mastitis in dogs symptoms
If your dog has mastitis, you’ll likely spot the following symptoms:
- Lumpy teats
- Teats that are painful to touch
- Teats that are warm or hot to touch
- Bruising or discolouration of the teats
- Reluctance to nurse puppies: which may result in your dog showing signs of aggression towards her puppies e.g. snapping or growling
- Milk may appear discoloured by pus or blood
- Crying or whimpering
- Weight loss in your bitch and/or her puppies
If you notice any of the mastitis symptoms listed above, it’s really important to contact your vet ASAP for advice. Speedy treatment can make all the difference in getting your dog back to their healthy and happy selves as quickly as possible.
Mastitis in dogs diagnosis
If your vet advises you to book your dog in for a consultation, they will normally perform an initial clinical exam, which will often involve palpation of the mammary glands and surrounding tissue to feel for lumps, inflammation and tenderness. A sample of milk may be taken from the affected teat, which your vet may examine under a microscope to look for bacteria.
Blood tests may also be necessary to check your dog’s white blood cell count to confirm infection and check infection severity. Additionally, an ultrasound may be carried out. This type of imaging can sometimes detect the presence of tumours, abscesses and other abnormalities.
Mastitis in dogs treatment
The most common form of treatment for mastitis in dogs is antibiotics and pain relief medications, these may initially be administered via injection by your vet, and then owners will normally be given oral or topical treatments to give at home. If your pet is diagnosed with a mastitis infection, it’s important not to allow her puppies to feed until your vet gives you the go ahead, as infection and medications can travel through the milk to the puppies, which can be very dangerous. If you’re concerned about a mastitis infection, or the possibility of medication transferring to your puppies, always speak to your vet for advice.
Your vet may also recommend milking the infected teat by hand every six hours or so to help alleviate discomfort (as a result of milk build up), encourage blood flow and promote healing. Compresses are sometimes recommended and these can be secured to the affected gland with either a bandage or t-shirt. Typically, compresses will need to be removed for three to four hours and then reapplied for two to four hours. In some cases, the puppies can still nurse from the affected teat when it’s uncovered, but always check with your vet before letting pups feed.
In very severe cases, your dog may require veterinary hospitalisation so they can receive intravenous fluids and appropriate medications. If the gland is extremely infected, your vet may even recommend the surgical removal of the damaged or infected glands. This is why mastitis in dogs needs to be treated as soon as possible. If your vet advises that it’s safe for your puppies to feed, ensure they are being weighed regularly to make sure they are receiving enough milk. It’s possible that, if your bitch is in a lot of pain, she may be unable to nurse sufficiently or her ability to produce milk may reduce. If this happens, or if medication or infection prevents your pups from feeding, your vet may recommend hand feeding high-quality formula or supplemental nutrition – if you would like more advice on puppy feeding, it’s best to speak to your vet.
Luckily, the prognosis for mastitis in dogs is normally good, and a full recovery is often possible with prompt, correct treatment.
Mastitis in dogs prevention
In many cases, mastitis in dogs can be prevented with some simple hygiene tips, these include:
- Keeping your dog’s environment and whelping box clean
- Ensuring all teats are being used to nurse puppies by moving your puppies around to ensure they aren’t feeding from one teat a lot more than another
- Keeping puppy’s nails clipped at the tip to avoid skin scratches. Make sure you don’t cut them too short, as this can be painful or cause bleeding – if you’re unsure how to clip you puppy’s nails, it’s best to ask a veterinary professional for advice
- Keeping your dog’s skin clean, by clipping any excessive hair and rinsing skin with warm saline twice a day, ensuring to pat dry after. There are also some antiseptic washes that are suitable for dogs and safe for use in cases of mastitis, but always check with your vet before using these
- Use warm or cold compresses (wrapped in a cloth so they’re not too cold and uncomfortable for you dog) for up to 20 minutes to help to reduce any inflammation.
That’s our guide to mastitis in dogs, the signs to watch out for and the most common treatment and prevention methods. Want to find out more about other conditions in dogs?? Read our guide to lymphoma in dogs, next.