What are the clinical signs of mastitis?
In mild or early cases of mastitis, the first sign of a problem may be that the nursing puppies are not gaining weight as quickly as expected. Careful examination may reveal slight swelling or inflammation of the affected mammary gland. In these stages, the affected dog often does not show any signs of illness and may show only minimal discomfort.
As mastitis progresses, the infected mammary gland will become increasingly swollen, inflamed, discolored (frequently red or purple), and painful. The mammary glands also may become ulcerated, with open wounds and scabs visible on the mammary gland. Milk expressed from the affected mammary gland may contain visible blood or pus or milk may appear visibly cloudy or thickened in consistency.
In severe cases, affected dogs may be visibly ill. The affected mammary gland may appear dark purple or black in color, as the tissues begin to die off due to overwhelming infection and decreased blood supply. Affected dogs may become lethargic, develop a fever, refuse to eat, or begin vomiting as the infection enters the bloodstream and they develop signs of sepsis.
Signs and Symptoms of Mastitis in Dogs
The early stage of mastitis in dogs is not very obvious. The pups weight progression might be a clue: mastitis can prevent puppies from nursing well, and they wont gain enough weight. Other early signs are slight swelling and inflammation of the breasts and mild discomfort.
As mastitis progresses, the signs and symptoms become more apparent:
Severe mastitis makes dogs extremely ill because the bacteria in the mammary glands has entered the bloodstream. Signs of severe mastitis in dogs include:
Diagnosing mastitis involves a physical examination and diagnostic testing. Your veterinarian will get a history of the problem from you, including when you first noticed the mastitis symptoms and what those symptoms were.
Your vet will then express some milk from an affected breast and use a microscope to look for bacteria or inflammatory cells in the milk. They may also perform a milk culture to identify the specific bacteria in the milk. Bloodwork will determine if the bacteria causing the mastitis has entered your dogs bloodstream.
Mastitis in dogs is categorized into two different types.
Acute Septic Mastitis
The female has developed an infection or abscess within a mammary gland and has become very ill. Bacteria have entered the mammary gland and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Otherwise referred to as caked breasts, galactostasis occurs during the later stages of pregnancy. The milk can start to accumulate and make the teats painful and distended. The mammary glands are not infected and therefore the female is not ill. This also happens when a female experiences a false pregnancy.
When pregnant, a dog’s body starts going through changes and milk production begins so she can nourish her pups when they are born. The puppies sometimes will scratch the mother’s nipples or the nipples can become cracked. This can allow a bacterial infection to begin in the milk ducts.
Dogs, females and males, can develop mastitis when not pregnant or nursing pups. If this is the case, your dog will need to see your veterinarian immediately. Mastitis that is occurring in a dog that is not nursing puppies can be caused by cancer of the mammary glands and needs urgent attention.
If you suspect that your dog has mastitis, your veterinarian will palpate the teats and may take a sample of the milk in the affected teat. The milk will then be examined under a microscope for the presence of pus and bacteria. A CBC, or complete blood count, may also be performed to determine the severity of the infection.
Your veterinarian may also recommend an ultrasound of the affected teat to locate any abscesses or tumors. A thyroid profile may also be performed to rule out hypothyroidism.
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Acute Septic Mastitis
A combination of treatments will most likely be prescribed by your veterinarian. Treatments can include aggressive antibiotics along with warm compresses applied to the affected teat. The infected teat will need to have the milk expressed to alleviate some of the pain and help prevent an abscess from forming.
Puppies should not be allowed to nurse from the affected teat. The puppies may need to be supplemented with formula while the female is recovering from acute septic mastitis. Just remember that milk production will stop after approximately three days if puppies do not nurse.
Your veterinarian may require that your dog’s water be withheld for 6-10 hours as well as food being withheld for up to 24 hours. Diuretics may also be prescribed as well as limited food intake. This treatment will not be helpful, and will likely be harmful, if this is not the cause of the problem.
Your dog may try to stimulate the teats by licking in the event of a false pregnancy. This can make it worse and your veterinarian may prescribe a hormonal therapy or a mild sedative to stop the behavior.
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In the event of galactostasis mastitis, your dog is not at immediate risk but should still be examined by your veterinarian. Once hormone levels have become normal once again, the condition should go away.
Acute septic mastitis will require immediate and aggressive treatment to ensure a full recovery. Your veterinarian will set a treatment plan and all follow up visits to make sure that the infection is gone.
When mastitis is caused by something such as cancer, your veterinarian will speak with you regarding available treatments and your dog’s prognosis. Your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist.
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How can I help my dog with mastitis?
Will mastitis go away on its own?
What antibiotic treats mastitis in dogs?
- Amoxicillin 20 mg/kg PO, IM or SC every 12 h.
- Amoxicillin/clavulanic acid 15 mg/kg PO every 12 h.
- Cephalexin 22–30 mg/kg PO every 8–12 h.
- Cefoxitin 22 mg/kg IM or IV every 8 h.