How to Diagnose and Treat Canine Mastitis

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Clipping puppies' nails can prevent scratches on mom's skin that can lead to infection.
Clipping puppies' nails can prevent scratches on mom's skin that can lead to infection. (Image: fiorigianluigi/iStock/Getty Images)

Although most cases of canine mastitis are fairly straightforward, your vet must make a definitive diagnosis and prescribe medication for treatment. Mastitis -- bacterial infection of the mammary gland -- can cause serious illness, but with treatment, most dogs make a complete recovery. In a worst-case scenario, the bacteria spreads throughout the dog's entire body. Inspect your nursing dog's nipples daily for any sign of a problem.

Canine Mastitis

Mastitis occurs in dogs after they've given birth and started nursing puppies, although it can occasionally develop in a canine experiencing false pregnancy. While it can appear at any stage of lactation, mastitis most often shows up shortly before puppies are ready for weaning, about the fifth week of their lives. Under normal circumstances, the mother dog's teats are big and soft. But the nipples of a dog experiencing mastitis are hard and red, and the animal is obviously uncomfortable.

Symptoms Graduate

General symptoms of mastitis include appetite loss, lethargy and fever. If you notice puppies crying a lot, it's likely they aren't receiving milk from their mother. If any newborn puppy gets sick or dies, carefully examine the nursing mother's teats. Specific, mammary-related symptoms include swollen and enlarged nipples, discolored milk or pus coming from the teats, and obvious pain in the mammary glands. Severely infected glands may abscess. The dam can go into shock, or her mammary glands could develop gangrene. Without treatment, the dam and her puppies may all die.

Mastitis Diagnosis

Bring your dog and her puppies to the vet. Besides conducting a physical examination, your vet will analyze the milk or discharge to identify the responsible bacteria. E. coli, Streptococci and Staphylococci are all common culprits of canine mastitis. Your vet will also test your dog's blood and urine. If the dog is seriously ill, your vet may perform X-rays of your pet's chest and abdomen, since mammary tumors sometimes share mastitis symptoms.

Mastitis Treatment

Your vet will likely prescribe an antibiotic to fight the bacterial infection, choosing a drug safe for nursing puppies. If necessary, she will lance a pus-filled gland. If the mastitis is mild, the vet may advise allowing the puppies to nurse, which is beneficial for the mother. You can apply warm compresses to the nipples several times daily for additional relief. However, if the dog experiences severe mastitis, with pus coming out of the teats, puppies should not be allowed to nurse and must be bottle-fed if they're not close to weaning age. Reducing the mother's water and food will help dry up her milk supply. If the mother's teats have abscessed or become gangrenous, surgery is necessary.

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