Over the last few weeks we have been discussing the difficulties bitches could have before, during and after puppy birth. One big problem is associated with the nursing of the newborn pups.

Mastitis

This is an infection of the breast. Dogs can have up to 10 functioning breasts. Sometimes tiny germs (bacteria) can invade the breasts via the canals (ducts) in the nipples. Of course, any wound (eg the scratching of the tender tissue by the pups’ claws during sucking) could act as a doorway through which the germs can get into the breast. Milk is an excellent medium in which bacteria can grow.

Also, if the mother has contracted a general infection, then those germs can also find themselves in the milk-producing tissue and flourish.

Signs of mastitis:

i) The mother dog refuses to let the pups suckle (because of the pain).

ii) She might have fever. The breast feels hot to the touch. Of course, the other symptoms associated with fever, eg inappetence and lethargy, are present.

iii) The breast is swollen and, in dogs with a light-coloured skin, you may actually see the redness (reddish blue) of the breast.

iv) The milk is slimy; it may even be reddish in colour (because of attendant blood).

What can you do?

First of all, you must remove the puppies. If they drink milk contaminated by bacteria, they could get sick (fatally so). Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe a course of antibiotics and possibly anti-inflammatory drugs for the mother dog. I always suggest that the infected breast be milked out as much as possible (gently pulling at the nipples with the thumb and index finger).

Use blotting paper or some absorbent tissue paper to remove the milk that accumulates on the nipple. About two days after the mastitis has developed, you can massage some liniment around the swollen breast every four hours or so. Be careful not to use a liniment that will blister the skin. Camphorated oil is an old but effective medication which has stood us in good stead over the years.

Very often only one or two of the breasts are infected. If this is the case, you can guide the pups on to those breasts that are healthy. Alternatively, you could place a plaster over the nipples of the sick breast. Also, if the mastitis develops when the puppies are about three weeks old, then you could wean them completely away from the mother.

I should mention that there is a form of mastitis (as in humans) that occurs either because there is too much milk production or there is a blockage (eg the caking up of the nipple canals) that prevents the milk from being suckled out. This results in a backing up of the milk in the tissue itself.

Obviously, this would be painful. The breasts – usually the last ones at the back – become hard and swollen.

The treatment would require the removal of the cause of the blockage. Milking out the affected breast(s) is of paramount importance. If an infection develops, then we’ll have to treat the condition as described above for mastitis. If the blockage is due to an anatomical defect, then surgery might be indicated.

Next week we’ll have a look at the nutritional regime that must be implemented relative to the lactating bitch.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.