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Mastitis in Dogs

What is Mastitis in Dogs?

Mastitis in dogs refers to the inflammation of the mammary glands in female canines, which can occur with or without an infection. This condition typically arises postpartum, often due to factors such as the messiness of the whelping box or abrupt weaning of the puppies. There are various types of mastitis observed in dogs:

  • Acute Mastitis: This type involves the sudden swelling of the mammary gland accompanied by heat and pain. The milk produced will display obvious abnormalities, and the mother dog may exhibit signs of lethargy.
  • Septic Mastitis: Characterized by sudden swelling of the mammary gland along with heat, pain, abnormal milk coloration, and changes in the mother dog’s behavior such as lethargy, altered appetite, and fever. Septic mastitis is usually caused by bacterial infection.
  • Chronic or Subclinical Mastitis: This form involves long-term inflammation of mammary tissue without clear clinical signs such as swelling or warmth.
  • Non-septic Mastitis: Inflammation of the mammary tissues without a known cause such as bacteria or fungus.
  • Gangrenous Mastitis: Recognizable by the black or bruised appearance of the teat and surrounding tissues. The milk may contain blood or appear blood-tinged. The mother dog will exhibit severe symptoms including vomiting, decreased appetite, fever, and changes in blood pressure.


The symptoms of mastitis in dogs can vary depending on the type of mastitis present. Affected glands may produce milk or fluid that appears discolored, bloody, or pus-like. In cases of infection, the glands may appear swollen, warm, firm, discolored, or even ulcerated (with the skin broken open).

For acute mastitis, symptoms may include hot and painful glands. Without timely treatment, acute mastitis can progress to septic mastitis. Signs of septic mastitis include fever, depression, loss of appetite, lethargy, or the mother dog neglecting her puppies.

Chronic or subclinical mastitis may only present with the failure of puppies to thrive. In non-septic mastitis, which often occurs around 3-4 weeks after birth during weaning, common signs include swollen and painful glands, despite the dog appearing relatively healthy and alert.

In severe cases of mastitis, the mother dog may exhibit symptoms such as fever, refusal to eat, vomiting, listlessness, rapid heart rate, depression, and a severe drop in blood pressure. These signs indicate a serious condition that requires immediate veterinary attention.


Mastitis in dogs is primarily attributed to bacterial infections, commonly involving bacteria like E. coli, enterococci, staphylococcus, and streptococcus spp. Other contributing factors include:

  • Fungal infections, such as blastomycosis and mycobacterium.
  • Trauma, which can result from wounds caused by sharp edges of the whelping box or, rarely, puppies scratching the teat while nursing.
  • Exposure to damp and unsanitary environments.
  • Prolonged milk stasis, leading to a build-up of milk.
  • Septicemia, or sepsis, which can exacerbate mastitis.
  • Death of newborn puppies, which can contribute to mastitis-related complications.


Veterinarians diagnose mastitis in dogs typically through a combination of physical examination and information provided by pet owners. Following the initial assessment and history-taking, veterinarians proceed with further diagnostics to ascertain the severity and type of mastitis, enabling them to choose the appropriate treatment plan. Additional imaging techniques may be employed to assess the extent of tissue damage and the criticality of the condition.

Blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry may be conducted to rule out:

  • Elevated white blood cell count (WBC), indicating severe mastitis.
  • Platelet abnormalities, which may suggest gangrenous mastitis and sepsis.
  • Dehydration.

Cytology procedures may be performed to detect an increase in white blood cells and the presence of bacteria or fungus (though rare). During cytology studies, veterinarians scrutinize cell groups for abnormalities.

Cultures of milk or fluid from the affected gland may be sent for analysis, guiding veterinarians in prescribing suitable medications. Radiographs (x-rays) could be taken to confirm or eliminate the possibility of gangrenous mastitis. Additionally, ultrasound scans may reveal abnormal changes in blood flow or tissue structure. Tissue samples might be collected and sent to laboratories for biopsy or histopathology to differentiate mastitis from cancerous conditions.


The treatment of mastitis in dogs varies depending on the type and severity of the condition. Severe cases often necessitate hospitalization, where intravenous fluids, pain relief, and antibiotics are administered. Surgical intervention might be required to address necrotic (dead) tissue, involving drainage, flushing, and removal procedures. Antibiotic therapy typically spans 2-3 weeks.

Acute mastitis is managed with broad-spectrum antibiotics, while treatment for chronic mastitis is tailored according to culture and sensitivity results. Since mastitis affects both the mother and puppies, the mother is initially prescribed antibiotics based on the pH of the expressed milk or fluid until culture results are available from the cytology lab. Careful consideration of the puppies’ age and nursing status is crucial, as certain antibiotics may pose risks to them.

In addition to oral medications, topical therapy is essential. If the mother is still nursing, infected glands are manually milked every 6 hours until signs of inflammation subside. Warm compresses may precede milking to encourage drainage. Gentle massages may be administered to promote blood circulation and alleviate congestion. Cold laser therapy is recommended to alleviate pain and inflammation, utilizing light frequencies to stimulate tissue healing and improve blood circulation.

Cabbage compresses are applied to reduce inflammation, although their mechanism of action remains somewhat unclear. This therapy can be administered either in a clinical setting if the mother is hospitalized or as part of at-home care. Following cabbage compress treatment, puppies can resume nursing from the affected glands once wraps are removed. Continuing to nurse puppies aids in preventing milk stasis and facilitates drainage. Probiotics may be beneficial to both the mother and puppies to maintain gut flora and prevent diarrhea during antibiotic treatment.

In certain situations, early weaning of puppies or alternative nutrition sources may be necessary:

  • Multiple glands are abscessed.
  • Neonates require antibiotics that are unsafe for them.
  • The mother exhibits systemic illness.
  • The mother refuses to nurse.

Treatment for mastitis associated with phantom pregnancy involves antibiotic therapy and cabbage leaf therapy. Phantom pregnancy, also known as pseudopregnancy or false pregnancy, occurs when a dog displays maternal behavior and physical signs of pregnancy despite not being pregnant. This behavior is addressed by removing the object being “mothered.”

Living and Management

For dogs diagnosed with either acute or chronic mastitis, the prognosis is generally positive. Clinical symptoms typically resolve within 2-3 weeks with appropriate treatment. However, if mastitis fails to respond to treatment or if gangrenous mastitis accompanies septicemia, the prognosis becomes uncertain.

The following measures can help minimize the risk of mastitis:

  • Trimming puppies’ nails to prevent injuries to the mother that could lead to infection.
  • Monitoring neonates to ensure they nurse from all glands, thereby avoiding sudden and prolonged milk stasis. If neonates are not nursing from all glands, it’s permissible to move them around.
  • Maintaining a clean, dry environment for the mother and puppies, free of sharp edges that could harbor bacteria.
  • Changing bedding in the nursing environment at least 1-2 times per day and cleaning the whelping box daily to reduce bacterial contamination.

Mastitis in Dogs FAQs

Can I treat mastitis in dogs at home?

Mastitis needs to be diagnosed by a veterinarian to establish a treatment plan for both the mother and potentially affected puppies. Mild to moderate cases might be discharged with a course of antibiotics, adjustments in care, compression therapy, and perhaps massage. It’s crucial not to attempt treatment at home without veterinary supervision, as therapy may involve hospitalization, surgical intervention, medication, and/or massage/compression therapy.

Is mastitis in dogs fatal?

Yes, mastitis can result in fatality for the mother and/or the puppies if not promptly addressed.

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