Symptoms of Mastitis in Dogs

Mastitis in dogs is a condition in which the milk ducts become infected causing swelling and inflammation. Mastitis may also be referred to as mammitis or mastadentis. During pregnancy, birth and nursing, the breast glands are stimulated to produce milk which nourishes puppies with necessary fats, sugars and other nutrients. This combination of ingredients coupled with the raw tenderness of the teats from nursing can create a potential for the bacterial growth which causes mastitis. In most cases, bacteria will be successfully cleared by a healthy immune system, however if hormone changes from pregnancy, lack of proper  nutrition, trauma or other factors suppress the normal immune system function, problems have a better chance to develop. Mastitis is generally easily treatable with antibiotics, but this condition can become severe and lead to more critical problems.

Symptoms of Mastitis

When the milk glands become infected, or milk is blocked from release, the teats will become very painful. Swelling, enlargement, engorgement or redness may be an indication of mastitis. You may see pus or abscesses present on the nipples. Milk may be discolored, or additional discharge may be released from the teats. Occasionally, the pain of mastitis can become great enough to lead to aggressive behavior in the mother dog. Additionally, infected milk will be less nourishing to puppies, causing sick or dying newborns, or puppies crying out from dehydration and malnourishment. Some mother dogs with mastitis may experience loss of appetite, lethargy or fever. Untreated mastitis can lead to a bacterial blood infection called septicemia or gangrene in the mammary glands. In these cases, intensive care and treatment will be warranted. 

Treatment of Mastitis

Most often, the first thing you can do to help treat mastitis is to apply warm water compresses to the affected teats. If your dog is not experiencing pain to the point of aggression, you may gently squeeze the teat between your forefinger and thumb. This will assist the flow of milk, help to release any contaminated milk, and help to prevent bacteria from entering the bloodstream. Treatment with warm water can help to clear off crustiness and contaminated or clogged milk. If the mother dog is becoming aggressive, either with you or her pups, and/or the puppies don't seem to be getting adequate nutrition, a manual weaning process may be in order. If chronic mastitis develops in one or more teats, it may be beneficial to discontinue breeding as with mammary glands which are infected repeatedly, removal (mastectomy) may become necessary.

Similar Conditions

There are a few conditions which produce symptoms very similar to mastitis. Often, during lactation, pseudo-pregnancy or the advanced stages of normal pregnancy, the gland will become enlarged and produce an excessive accumulation of milk. Teats may become painful, but will not excrete pus or abscesses commonly seen with mastitis. Additionally, firmness, swelling and ulcerations may occur with formation of mammary tumors. Tumors can be fairly common, especially in older dogs, but may not be associated with pregnancy or lactation.