What makes your day? For me, it was the next patient in clinic being a Dachshund who had recently had puppies.
My childhood dog was a Dachshund, and my mother, aunts and cousins have all had Doxies, so with all those hours, days and months of wonderful time spent with doxies, they’re a breed that can raise a smile just by being what they are.
Anyhow, the client was worried about her dog, so away with the goofy smile and time to start thinking with a clear clinical head.
Sasha and Her Sore Mammary Glands
The Doxie mom, Sasha, had a litter of 4 gorgeous girl pups just 2 weeks before. All the pups were doing well and gaining weight nicely. Although their eyes were yet to fully open, the pups were beginning to realize they had paws and attempting, in a wobbly way, to find their legs.
However, the concerned client was worried about Sasha. The previous day, one of her mammary glands was rock hard, and the puppies were avoiding it. So the client was concerned about Sasha having mastitis.
The What, Why, When of Mastitis in Dogs
The word mastitis literally means “inflammation of the mammary gland,” of which the most common cause is infection.
This can happen when bacteria enter the teat and travel upward into the mammary gland. These bacteria can be those on the surface of the skin, from the pup’s mouth or from the nest on which the mom lies.
The signs a mother dog might have a problem include:
- Reluctance to let the puppies feed
- Loss of appetite
- Unsettled puppies (because they are hungry)
On examining the mother, you might find:
- A hot, hard mammary gland
- Pain when the gland is touched; this may make the mother snap or whine
- Pus coming from the nipple
With puppies that are entirely dependent on Mom, anything that affects her health has a knock-on effect on them. Puppies can go downhill quickly, especially if they get cold (pushed away from Mom) or hungry. Therefore, if a nursing mother’s health is in question, always play it safe and get her checked by a vet.
Raising Pups: Be Vigilant
If your dog has pups, you’ll need to be vigilant and step in if the mother seems off-color in any way. This can be trickier than it sounds, because you’re also advised not to interfere too much, to let Mom get on with the job of nursing. If you disturb her too often, then she may become unsettled and leave the litter. So, what to do?
Most moms will tolerate you picking up 1 puppy at a time if she can still see the pup and you don’t move them far away. To check if the pups are OK, plan to weigh them on a daily basis.
Simply get into the routine of having a clean kitchen weighing scale (dedicated to the purpose — don’t use it for baking!) close by the nest. Pop each pup on in turn, leaving Mom to look after the other pups. Record the pup’s weight in a chart, and look for a slow, steady weight gain.
Also, from a respectful distance, watch the pups nursing. Check out if each pup has a favorite nipple at the milk bar that they prefer to feed from. Make sure each pup gets a fair feed and that there’s no bullying and pushing litter mates off the nipple.
Does Mom seem comfortable and relaxed while feeding? Tension or growling at a puppy indicates she’s uncomfortable, possibly because of scratchy claws against her skin, but mastitis might also be a possibility.
Preventing Mastitis in Dogs
The most important factor is to keep the nest clean. If Mom lies on soiled bedding, then it’s only a matter of time until bacteria get into her teats and cause an infection.
However, sometimes it’s also a cause of the puppies being a bit rough and nipping and tugging on tender places, causing inflammation, milk stagnation and infection.
It can also be a good idea to wash your female dog’s belly, so as to reduce the amount of bacteria on her skin. But only do this once the pups are feeding well; they find their way to the milk bar using a sense of smell. Likewise, if Mom is going to get distressed by having her tummy wiped down, then don’t press the point — leave her be.
Back to Sasha
On examination, Sasha seemed great. The mammary gland was no longer swollen and was soft and floppy, just as a freshly suckled gland should be. She didn’t have a fever, was feeding well and her poop was normal. In addition, her squirmy litter of 4 sausages were all thriving and doing well.
The most likely explanation for her symptoms of the previous day was that the gland had become engorged with milk. This can happen if puppies don’t feed from that particular teat for a while. When you think about it, a female dog has 10 teats, and with 4 pups, this means 6 of those teats may not get suckled at any 1 feed.
Once a lucky pup realized there was a super bounty ripe for the taking and suckled from the engorged gland, then the swelling resolved. But kudos to Sasha’s human for being vigilant and erring on the side of caution.
Here’s a fascinating way of hand-feeding puppies:
If Sasha did have mastitis, what would the treatment have been? Here are some options:
- Hand-raise the pups: For full-on mastitis, the mom is in too much pain to feed pups, so it’s necessary to hand-feed them using a puppy-milk replacer, such as Welpi. This is why it’s a great idea for a client with a pregnant or nursing dog in the house to have a pot of Welpi on the shelf, just in case.
- Poulticing the gland: Gently holding a warm flannel over the swollen gland can helps dilate the milk ducts and relieve any obstruction. However, take care — if the mother is very sore, she may be snappy, in which case, leave well enough alone.
- Antibiotics: In cases where the mother is unwell or feverish, then antibiotics are necessary to fight the infection from the inside out.
Happily, Sasha’s doing just fine, with no signs of mastitis.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed June 1, 2018.