Breast infection (mastitis)
Last week we discussed ‘caked breasts.’ Today, we will examine that ailment which is a common problem that develops just after delivery of the puppies, and as they start to suckle.
Even those newborn puppies have sharp claws; and those nails create small scratches on the breasts as the pups press them for milk. Bacteria then enter those tiny skin lesions and find their way into the breast tissue.
The germs can also enter through the tiny canals (that are in the nipples) and work their way up into the breast creating a localized infection. One must remember that milk is a good base on which bacteria can flourish. Sometimes, we find only one breast with the mastitis condition, but usually more than one breast is infected.
I should mention that if the mother has a generalized infection, in other words if germs are circulating in her blood, then those germs can (via the bloodstream) reach the breast filled with milk and settle there and multiply.
The infected breast is usually hot to the touch (warmer than usual) and it is swollen. If your mother dog is white in colour, it would be easier to notice the redness of the infected breast(s). Later the infected breast develops a reddish blue tinge. Of course, the ‘inflammation’ (redness) is not so visible in a black dog. The infected and inflamed breast is painful to the touch.
More generally, the bitch with mastitis goes off its food; she moves away from the pups which need to be nursed; she exhibits apathy and sits in some corner away from her puppies; at times she is restless; almost always there is a high fever (40° C plus).
As I said above, the pain caused by pups nursing an inflamed breast tends to make the mother dog move away from her brood.
In some cases the maternal instinct is so strong, that she accommodates the pain and nurses the pups. That is not good for the puppies, because they can be infected by the same germs that are resident in their mother’s breast, and can then succumb to diarrhoea.
Actually the milk changes colour. Instead of being white (or yellowish white, if it is the first milk or colostrum), the infected milk may be pink or blood tinged. The consistency is thin or string like; it may even contain globules of pus.
Acute mastitis should be treated by a veterinarian. Routine measures include the use of appropriate antibiotics and gentle massage of the glands, three or four times a day, with camphorated oil, followed by an application of hot packs. It is imperative that one tries to “milk out” the breasts (extract the milk by pulling gently on the nipples while massaging the breasts).
The nipple of an infected gland can be taped closed, thus allowing the puppies to nurse at the other breasts and not the sick one. If more than one gland is exhibiting mastitis symptoms, or if the dam is really ill and running a high fever, it is advisable to remove the puppies altogether and raise them by hand. If they are three weeks of age, they can be weaned away from the mother and introduced to a diet suggested by your vet. Later, I will spend some time discussing the hand-rearing of newborn puppies.
When the milk from an infected breast returns to a normal appearance, you may reintroduce puppies to that breast.
Enough of this mastitis problem for today.
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 do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. 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.