Mastitis is an infection of the breast that can occur in lactating dogs at any point during pregnancy, birth and nursing. It is most commonly experienced in lactating dogs 10 to 14 days after delivery. Mastitis is a treatable condition, with no long-term effects, if caught promptly, and given proper medical attention; however, if allowed to go on untreated it can result in the loss of both mother and pups.
The bitch will display multiple symptoms, the most prominent of which is a inflammation of the breast tissue. Mastitis may affect a single teat, or a larger portion of the breasts. The infected area may appear firm and red, or hard and black if the mastitis is dangerously advanced. The breast tissue may feel hot and swollen to the touch, and the area may be extremely sensitive and painful when touched. If the affected teat is milked, the milk-like-discharge may be puslike, bloody or discoloured; the best way to tell if the milk is abnormal is to milk an unaffected teat for comparison.
Both the bitch and her pups may have an elevated fever in response to the infection. In canines, an elevated fever is above 39.4 degrees C when taken rectally.
Both the bitch and her pups may demonstrate a decreased energy level, with little or no appetite. Watch the pups specifically; mastitis may be to blame if you have crying puppies, puppies with unexplainable weight loss, a puppy who is squeezed out at nursing time that was not before or dying newborns. Also watch for the bitch to snap at puppies when they are nursing, especially if the nipping is consistently related to a single teat, or set of teats.
The most basic treatment for mastitis, when caught promptly, is the administration of antibiotics. As the disease progresses, however, more interventions become necessary, and may include IV fluids, manual milking, weaning and manual feeding of puppies, and surgical draining of the affected breast.
Mammary infections, which are well advanced at the time of the diagnosis, may have created a host of secondary complications including vascular conditions, blood clots, dehydration, toxic shock, sepsis, bacterial infection, damage to other organ systems, toxic milk or gangrene. These must be individually assessed and addressed by a veterinary professional.
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