Whether you are new to breeding or you have decades of
experience, there is one word that I’m positive everyone has heard and that is mastitis.
It is, after all, a problem that every breeder is going to be presented with at least one time in their breeding career.
But while you may be faced with it, mastitis doesn’t have to
be a problem that devastates your breeding program or the health of your breeding female.
In fact, with proper management and watching for the signs so
you can detect it in the early stages, mastitis can be treated quickly and effectively at home.
However, the key to treatment is to understand what mastitis is, the symptoms and causes and the many tools you can use to help your breeding female if mastitis begins to manifest. And in this article, we will cover all the information you need to help your dogs.
What is Mastitis?
The very first place we should begin is identifying what
mastitis is. First, mastitis is a serious infection that is found in the
mammary tissue in dogs.
Often, it starts as a centralized infection but can spread to other mammary glands. In addition, it can become an abscess and more serious infection as it progresses.
While it is primarily seen in nursing females during the
first 3 to 4 weeks after delivering puppies, it can be seen in females who haven’t been bred. In addition, mastitis can be seen in male dogs, however, it is a rare occurrence when it does happen.
Mastitis is a swelling of the breast tissue that creates a hard, hot to the touch, lump in the breast. It can start off as slightly hot skin or swelling but, if left untreated, it can quickly progress to a more serious condition and can even become gangrenous. For that reason, it is important to treat it quickly and early to prevent serious health problems in your dog.
What are the symptoms of Mastitis?
As mentioned, mastitis is an infection so you will often see
a lot of signs before it becomes extremely serious and life threatening to your dog. Although you should be aware of all the symptoms, it’s good to look at them at the early stage and then at later stages in this condition.
During the early stages of mastitis, there won’t be a lot of
symptoms. In fact, in nursing females, many of the first symptoms will be seen in her nursing puppies instead of in her. Symptoms you can see in the puppies are:
This usually indicates that the puppies are hungry. A warm, full puppy is content and quiet. If you notice your puppies are unhappy and discontent, take the time to check mom's nipples and breast tissue for early signs of mastitis.
Not Gaining Weight
Since mastitis can block mammary glands, puppies may not be getting enough milk and this will affect their weight gain. Weighing your puppies at least once a day will help you monitor your dam as well and you’ll be able to catch a problem early.
In your dam, you will notice a few symptoms, however, it may
be easy to overlook if you are not watching closely.
When mastitis progresses to this point, symptoms that you
can see are:
Finally, mastitis can become so severe that the abscess can split, leaving a serious, and gaping wound. The longer mastitis is left, the worse the condition will be and could cause permanent damage to your dam.
It is very important to get medical care for your dog if mastitis progresses to this point. Your dog will require antibiotics and, without them, could die from the infection.
How is Mastitis Caused?
Mastitis is caused by a number of reasons depending on
whether it is seen in a nursing dam or a male dog; however, it is a bacterial infection commonly caused by staph (staphylococci), E. coli (Escherichia coli) or β-hemolytic streptococci bacteria.
It is more commonly seen in nursing dams due to the fact
that the bacteria gets into the nipple through injuries caused by the puppies’ teeth as they are nursing.
However, it is important to realize that there are two types
of mastitis that owners should be aware of in their dogs.
Acute Septic Mastitis
This is when bacteria has gotten into the mammary gland and leads to an infection. Often an abscess occurs with this mastitis and can be very painful for the dog.
When this occurs, there is an infection and it is important to seek medical help for full treatment. Acute septic mastitis can be life threatening if left untreated.
Acute septic mastitis is commonly caused by a trauma to the nipple and mammary tissue. This occurs more commonly during nursing since the nails and teeth of the puppies can leave scratches, opening up the tissue for bacteria to enter.
Galactostasis (also known as caked breasts)
Although this is considered a type of mastitis, it is not caused by infection and can be treated easily at home.
Galactostasis usually occurs during the end of pregnancy or even during weaning when puppies are not nursing as frequently from the nipples as they were. The teats are overfilled with milk and can become hard and distended.
However, mastitis can also be caused by an infection elsewhere in the body that has spread down into the mammary glands. Often, when it is caused in non-nursing females or male dogs, it is a sign that there is a secondary infection happening, although trauma should not be ruled out.
How To Manage The Risk of Mastitis in your Dog
When it comes to mastitis, it is very important to look at
in terms of risk management and prevention. While it can happen with very little warning, there are things that you can do to help lower the risk of an infection to happen.
Although many people focus on the treatment, risk management for prevention is as important as treatment itself so we are going to go over ways to help prevent mastitis in your dogs.
However, please remember that sometimes, even the best risk management can still lead to a dog developing mastitis.
Monitoring Your Dam
The very first thing that every owner should do is monitor
their nursing bitch to help identify the early signs of mastitis so treatment can be done quickly.
One thing that should be mentioned is that mastitis, if not treated quickly, can be detrimental to both the mom and the puppies. In fact, it is possible to lose puppies, and the dam, if mastitis becomes too advanced.
With monitoring, what you want to do are the following:
When you are monitoring your dog, you are able to catch infections quickly or treat a blocked milk duct or galactostasis before it becomes septic.
Monitoring your Puppies
While you are monitoring your dam, be sure to monitor your
puppies. Often, your puppies can be an indication that something is off with the mom simply by how they are acting. When you are monitoring your puppies, do the following:
Often, puppies are the first line of defense with preventing
and minimizing the risk of mastitis.
This is something that you will hear from me all the time.
Cleanliness…cleanliness…cleanliness. If your dam is raising puppies in a dirty environment, then she and her puppies are going to be open to a host of problems and not just mastitis.
When you think of cleanliness, there are a few things that
you should consider.
Although having a litter of puppies in the home does have
their own scent, a properly cared for and clean whelping area should have very little smell.
By following these three risk management areas, you have a
better chance of not only preventing the illness but also catching it early if your dog develops it.
Treating Mastitis at Home
Now that we know the what’s and how’s as well as ways to
prevent, it’s time to really look at what you can do at home if your dog is developing mastitis. I want to emphasis that acute septic mastitis needs to be treated with antibiotics, which will be prescribed by a vet.
Be aware that some antibiotics can be dangerous for the puppies so only use one that your vet prescribes.
However, for blocked milk ducts or overproduction, there are
a number of things that you can do. Even after your dam is on a round of antibiotics, these treatments will help reduce her pain and will often help her recover faster.
#1 Cabbage Leaves
This is a treatment that is tried and true for human moms
and dog moms alike. Cabbage leaves help reduce swelling and can help with the pain. To treat with cabbage leaves, simply cut off a leaf. It is better to use cold, raw cabbage leaves as these will also be quite soothing for the inflammation.
Place onto the affected teat or teats and then secure in place
with a bandage. A fitted t-shirt often works very well in this case but you want something that will keep the cabbage leaves securely in place on the teat.
Leave the cabbage leaves on for two to four hours. Remove
and wipe the area clean. If there is no pus leaking from the nipple, allow the puppies to nurse on the affected teats in an effort to get milk flowing through them.
Reapply the cabbage leaves every three to four hours and
keep them on for two to four hours each time until swelling goes down. Often,cabbage leaves will reduce the swelling after only two or three treatments but you may need to do more.
Alternatively, if you are not confident using cabbages, you
can apply warm towels to her teats in the same manner, however, the cabbage leaves are more effective.
#2 Express the Milk
In the event of an overabundance of milk, you can start
expressing the milk by hand. This is also good with acute septic mastitis but be careful that you are not causing injury or damaging the abscess, leading to it bursting.
If your dam is in pain, she may not allow you to express so I would recommend that you use a combination of the cabbage leaves and expressing the milk.
Try expressing the teat several times a day until it starts
to feel soft. If you can, express some milk and then have the puppies feed to get more milk out of the teat. This will help treat the problem faster than if you are expressing on your own.
#3 Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Another step that you should take is to keep your dam hydrated.
She is fighting an infection and it can be very easy for your dam to become dehydrated. Make sure she is getting ample water for both her needs as a nursing mom and to help her fight off the infection.
#4 Reduce her Milk Supply
Secondly, reduce the amount of food that she is getting. Up
until this point, she’s been getting a lot of food to help with the demand of feeding a hungry litter of puppies.
If you need to wean the puppies due to her mastitis, reduce how much food mom is getting. This will indicate to her body that it’s time for her to stop producing as much milk.
Finally, you can use a mustard plaster in dire circumstances. This is safe; however, you want to restrict access as you don’t want mom or puppies to ingest the mustard. To use a mustard plaster, mix together:
- 1 tbsp dry mustard
- 1 tbsp flour
- 2 tsp olive oil
- Water to form paste
Apply a thin layer of Vaseline on the teats and then a thin layer of the mustard plaster to a towel. Place on the teats and leave for 20 minutes. Remove and clean the area thoroughly. Repeat as needed.
#5 Herbal Remedies
There are a few herbal remedies that are recommended,
however, I always caution about using them. While they may be perfectly okay for the dam, they may cause tummy upset or worse in the puppies.
Generally, I recommend always washing the teats thoroughly if you are using any type of ointment before puppies feed. This is regardless of whether it is a prescription or an
Some recommended remedies are:
Known as a natural antibiotic, you can add a few drops of colloidal silver to your dog’s drinking water for 5 to 10 days. It will help fight the infection and many breeders swear by it as an alternative to antibiotics.
You can also use it as a compress by applying a few drops to the skin and then placing a warm towel on the affected area for 20 minutes. Remove and wash thoroughly.
Hepar Sulphuris Calcareum
This treatment is often used to treat swelling and painful glands, which includes mammary glands. It will reduce swelling and will often help alleviate the pain and discomfort from the mastitis.
Treatment should be given orally and it is important to use a potency that reflects both the size and age of your dam.
Although this herbal remedy doesn’t alleviate mastitis or treat it, I recommend it as it can restore milk production once the infection has cleared up.
Often, mastitis can reduce milk production as puppies won’t be nursing as frequently if your dam is uncomfortable. Give a few drops orally to get mom back to her full health.
This remedy is used to reduce hard lumps in mammary glands. Another one that is given orally, phytolacca will also reduce pain that the dam is feeling.
Finally, manuka honey is known to be a powerful antibiotic and antiseptic that can help alleviate mastitis in your dog. You can use it both internally by giving the dog a few drops on a daily basis and as a compress in the same way that you would use the colloidal silver.
One of the main points about treating your dog is to do it
quickly and as soon as you start to see a problem.
When to See a Vet
Although there are things that you can do at home if you see
a blocked milk duct or too much milk production, it is important to contact a vet as soon as you suspect mastitis. This is a life threatening disease for both mom and puppies and it can progress very quickly.
Your dog’s veterinarian will diagnose it by doing a cytology and culture of the affected area. In addition, he will assess the condition of the dog’s teats and will identify if it is becoming acute septic mastitis or if it is something that can be treated at home with the treatments above.
However, mastitis often requires antibiotic treatment, which
is why it is important to go to the vet as soon as you suspect an infection.The longer you wait, the more challenging it will be to treat the infection.
Sometimes, vets will recommend you continue with the treatments outlined aboveas well as a short treatment of antibiotics.
One thing that should be considered when you visit the vet
is if your dog should be spayed after the litter is weaned. While it is notalways the case, studies have shown that dogs who have mastitis once are more likely to develop mastitis a second time.
Although many people don’t think of it as a serious illness,
mastitis is. However, with proper risk management and following the tips through this article, it is one that can be fixed very quickly and with minimal side effects to mom or puppies.
Although I’ve gone through all the steps that I follow with mastitis, I wanted to relate a personal experience with it so that you are aware of how quickly it can occur.
First, the bitch that developed mastitis was 4 years old. This was her second litter and she did not experience mastitis with her first litter. In addition, her dam, who was also my dog, had not experienced it.
I was checking the breast tissue several times throughout the day and noticed nothing different. In addition, I had the puppies rotating on her nipples and switching them from side to side so all of the nipples were being drained at each feeding.
There were 11-2 week old puppies so I was confident they could keep her drained.
Her behavior was normal until about 5pm when she suddenly started walking with very stiff back legs. The first thing I did was check over her nipples and found one that was hard, swollen and hot to the touch.
Immediately, we contacted the vet and he prescribed antibiotics over the phone and Metacam, which I keep on hand in the event of emergencies. Metacam is a very strong painkiller for dogs.
I doused her immediately with Metacam and from that point on, the puppies needed to be bottlefed while I nursed mom as well.
For treatment, I applied cold cabbage compresses to the nipple and then alternated that with warm compresses.
In between compresses, I expressed as much milk, which also contained pus and blood, from the affected nipple. She was taking antibiotics twice a day and Metacam as needed, every 24 hours.
By day two, the skin on the breast started weeping blood and pus and I knew that we had a losing battle.
Still, I continued compresses as well as expressing milk. On day three, a small sore appeared and by the end of the day, it was about the an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. The pus flowed freely and the swelling in the nipple came down.
From that point, we stopped expressing, continued Metacam and antibiotics. I kept the wound clean and dry, washing out the pus and blood several times a day before placing a bandage on it.
I wound her breast and her entire stomach in vet bandage and then placed a t-shirt over the area to prevent her from worrying it loose. I also used a Elizabethan collar to keep her from licking and tearing at the wound site.
This continued for about a week or changing the bandage several times a day until she was healed enough to stop bandaging it. She was on antibiotics for 2 weeks and was done with Metacam by day 5 from the very first dose.
The reason why I wanted to share this experience is that even with the best vigilance, mastitis can happen to anyone. It can happen quickly and while it can be treated at home, I strongly recommend doing so at the direction of the vet. I didn’t take my girl to the vet as my vet is confident in my abilities and was able to treat her over the phone through the entire process, including when the wound appeared.
However, once mastitis gets to the point that my girl’s did, it can only be treated successfully with antibiotics. By avoiding the antibiotics, you can put your dog at risk so make sure that you always follow up with your vet.
Thankfully, the quick and aggressive treatment saved my girl and we were able to save her nipple with very little damage to the breast tissue itself. If I hadn’t acted so quickly and decisively, I could have had a much bigger problem and it could have been very bad for both my dam and her litter.
So the best advice I can give you in the event that your dog has mastitis is to treat it quickly and aggressively for the best outcome.