Canine mastitis is a health problem that can develop in mothers breastfeeding their puppies. It results from damage to the skin on breasts and nipples which leads to infection. It is usually not a huge problem if treated early, but left untreated it can become serious and lead to death of the mother. Puppies can also end up dying if they feed on an infected breast.
What Causes Canine Mastitis?
Mastitis in lactating bitches usually results from small cuts caused by the developing claws and teeth of newborn puppies. Bruising is also caused by the pressure of the puppies' paws as they try to coax the milk out of the breasts. Pregnancy, whelping, producing milk and nursing puppies all have an effect on a dog's immune system. Damage to the breasts makes it extremely easy for bacteria to get in and infect the dog. Mastitis is especially common with large litters where there is more demand on the mother.
Symptoms of mastitis in dogs include swollen and inflamed breasts, changes in breast color and texture, discharges from the breast. lethargy and loss of appetite.
Preventing Mastitis in Dogs
There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of your dog developing mastitis:
Take your dog to the vet for a health check and any booster shots before breeding
Take your dog to the vet during pregnancy for regular check ups
Clip the claws of the puppies when they are a few days old to reduce the wear and tear on the mother's breasts
Wean the puppies at the right time - they should be fully weaned by 5 weeks of age
For large litters (ie, for a Jack Russell, 7+ puppies) consider supplemental feeding with milk replacement formula (discuss this with your vet first)
Treating Mastitis in Dogs
Mastitis in lactating bitches is usually treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Some vets may recommend that you wean the puppies off the mother earlier than normal, or help her out by hand-feeding them. This is something to discuss with a vet. Don't try to treat your dog using medications that aren't specifically designed for dogs.