Mastitis in dogs is an uncomfortable, potentially dangerous condition that affects the mammary glands in nursing females (and occasionally non-nursing females, or even male dogs).
Mastitis is caused by bacteria, and it not only causes discomfort but can cause toxicity in the milk produced for nursing puppies. If left untreated, mastitis can become fatal.
It’s important that owners keep an eye out for signs of mastitis in dogs, particularly if females are pregnant or have just begun nursing their litter. In this article, we explain what the most important mastitis symptoms in dogs are, what causes mastitis in dogs, and how it can be prevented or treated.
What is mastitis in dogs?
Mastitis is best described as an inflammation, or soreness around the mammary gland. It generally occurs in females, particularly when they are pregnant. There are multiple causes for mastitis, and treatments need to be recommended or prescribed by a vet.
There are two types of mastitis in dogs, but both have similar symptoms and treatments. Your vet will be able to diagnose which type of mastitis your dog has contracted.
The two types of mastitis are:
- Acute septic mastitis - caused by infectious bacteria and characterized by abscesses and pain.
- Galactostasis - affects dogs entering into the final stages of pregnancy. It is characterized by milk accumulating in the teats, causing discomfort and painful mammary glands. Not caused by bacteria.
As you can see, the first type of mastitis is caused by a bacterial infection, whereas the second type is not. All mammals are, therefore, prone to developing acute septic mastitis, as the condition is caused by bacteria that primarily infect the mammary glands (so any animal with mammary glands can be infected). This type of mastitis in dogs, then, is predominantly a concern for females, but it can (rarely) affect the dog nipples of a male dog too.
Bacteria cause the mammary glands (the teats) to become inflamed, causing discomfort, pain, and in severe cases, sepsis or even shock. Because the condition affects a dog’s mammary glands, mastitis is most likely to occur when females are nursing. Their glands are more susceptible, in this condition, to infection from bacteria.
Bacterial mastitis can be exaggerated by trauma or dirty surroundings. If the teats are sore or bleeding from the hungry puppies, then bacteria have a route into the body where they cause infection. Bacteria thrive in dirty environments, so it’s important to keep nursing females in clean conditions.
Galactostasis can only occur in female dogs that are pregnant, as the condition isn’t caused by bacteria but by an excess quantity of milk. This build-up of milk causes similar symptoms to acute septic mastitis. Bacterial infections can also occur if galactostasis has caused overt soreness or bleeding, and bacteria can get into the teat.
Luckily, though, dogs with either type of mastitis can be effectively treated for the condition, although dogs are susceptible to re-infection and may contract the condition multiple times over the course of their life.
Symptoms of mastitis in dogs
Mastitis can occur at any point in a dog’s life, but owners really need to be aware of the condition if their female dog is pregnant. Outside of pregnancy and nursing puppies, it’s rare to see any symptoms of mastitis in or around the mammary gland.
Dogs with mastitis (either type) can exhibit the following mastitis in dogs symptoms.
- Lumps on the teats
- Teats are obviously painful
- Teats are warm or hot to the touch
- Enlarged mammary gland
- Teats are exhibiting signs of bruising or are purple-blue in color
- Female dogs do not want to nurse their puppies
- Female dogs growl at their puppies
- Blood in the milk or other discolorations
- Loss of appetite and weight
- General lethargy or apathy
If you notice any of the above symptoms, then consult your vet for a diagnosis and advice on mastitis in dogs treatment. If left untreated, then mastitis causes unnecessary stress and pain, particularly in females that need to nurse their new puppies.
Symptoms left unchecked can deteriorate further, too. Although they at first appear to be minor (soreness, or lumps, etc.), mastitis can lead to more severe infections, sepsis, or shock - all of which can be fatal, particularly in weakened or older dogs.
It’s good practice to regularly check your female dog’s mammary gland, especially if they are pregnant. Keep them in a clean, bacteria-free environment, and be mindful of the symptoms they could show if they do have mastitis.
How to treat mastitis in dogs
There are several different treatment methods that your vet may recommend. As an owner, you can help your dog’s recovery by setting up a dog ramp for bed to make it easier for them to get around the home, as well as following your vet’s recommendations.
Your vet first needs to establish which form of mastitis has affected your dog, and from there, they can prescribe the best treatments and recovery process. Let’s take a look at the best treatments available for either form of mastitis.
Acute septic mastitis treatments
As acute septic mastitis is caused by a bacterial infection, the best course of treatment is always going to include a course of antibiotics. Your vet can prescribe these, and it’s important that you ensure your dog completes their full course of antibiotics in order to recover.
To take away the immediate pain and discomfort, your vet will suggest that you regularly apply a cold compress to the inflamed areas. If your female dog is pregnant, then your vet may also need to expel any excess milk from the teat.
If your puppies are being nursed, then, unfortunately, they will not be allowed to feed on their mother’s teat until the mastitis has passed and they have fully recovered. Instead, you will need to feed the puppies with milk supplements. Your vet will recommend formulas that you can mix at home and dispense to the puppies.
If your dog is pregnant and has contracted galactostasis due to a build-up of excess milk in the teat, then antibiotics may not be necessary - although if your vet suspects there could also be an infection, they may prescribe a course to be completed.
To treat galactostasis specifically, then your vet often recommends that you stop feeding your dog for at least a day. For half a day, they advise that you stop giving them water, too. This can help to alleviate the build-up of milk and the discomfort it causes your dog.
In addition, it might well be necessary for your dog to undergo hormonal therapy, particularly if the build-ups of milk are excessive and are difficult to get rid of in any other manner.
Because mastitis can return, it’s important that owners continue to monitor their dogs and make regular checks once they have recovered. Keep the house clean to avoid the build-up of any bacteria that can cause infection, and always look out for the reappearance of signs and symptoms, particularly if your dog becomes pregnant again.
Mastitis in dogs: the final say
If you suspect that your dog has mastitis, then always contact your vet immediately. They can diagnose the illness and prescribe the correct antibiotics or treatment plan. Failure to act quickly can, in extreme cases, be fatal.
Treatments, however, are effective, although owners need to be aware that dogs can catch the infection or contract mastitis more than once in their lifetime. Always follow the recommendations of your vet to avoid your dog experiencing any unnecessary discomfort or pain while they are recovering from the illness.
If you suspect your dog could have an inflamed mammary gland, then why not bookmark our guide to mastitis in dogs?