Dog Breeding – Mastitis

The bitch normally has five pairs of mammary glands, or a total of 10 individual teats. There are two types of mastitis that can affect the nursing dam: caked breasts and acute septic mastitis.

Galactostasis (Caked Breasts)

Milk accumulation in late pregnancy and during lactation may increase to the point where the teats become distended, painful, and warm. They are not infected and the dam does not appear sick. Caking of the mammary glands also occurs during false pregnancy when there are no puppies to remove the milk. This may also occur when the litter is small and the dam has extra milk.

Caked breasts should be distinguished from the swollen breasts that develop when milk fails to let down after whelping.

Treatment: Withhold water for 6 to 10 hours. Also withhold food for 24 hours and modestly restrict food intake for the next three days. Your veterinarian may prescribe a diuretic such as furosemide (Lasix).

Bitches with a false pregnancy often exhibit an excessive mothering instinct that includes licking and stimulating the teats, which makes matters worse. This can be prevented, in part, by giving a mild tranquilizer prescribed by your veterinarian. Hormonal therapy to dry up the breasts may be considered in cases of false pregnancy.

Acute Septic Mastitis

Acute mastitis is an infection or abscess of one or more of the mammary glands caused by bacteria that gain entrance from a scratch or puncture wound in the skin of the teat. Some cases are bloodborne and are associated with acute metritis. Breast infection can occur any time from day one to six weeks postpartum.

Dams with acute mastitis run a high fever, are depressed, and refuse to eat. The affected teats, usually the two largest ones close to the groin, are swollen, extremely painful, and usually reddish blue in appearance. The milk may be blood-tinged, thick, yellow, or stringlike. In some cases the milk appears normal.

Treatment: Acute mastitis should be treated under veterinary supervision. Routine measures include appropriate antibiotics and the application of warm compresses for 30 minutes three times a day, followed by gentle stripping of the infected gland to express the milk. Early treatment may prevent an abscess.

The milk of an infected breast is of poor nutritional quality, and puppies usually refuse to nurse from these teats. It is seldom necessary to tape a nipple or bind the teat to prevent nursing. However, if the puppies are trying to nurse the infected glands, you will need to do this. A mammary gland that is not suckled stops producing milk in three days.

If the dam is septic, her overall milk production may decline. She may show little interest in tending her puppies. If this happens, remove the puppies and raise them by hand. If they are 3 weeks or older, wean them and dry up the breasts as described in chapter 17.

Prevention: Puppies should have their nails trimmed weekly beginning at 2 to 3 weeks of age to keep them from scratching the skin of the dam.