Mastitis (bacterial infection of the mammary glands) in Cats

Overview of Mastitis in Cats

Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the mammary glands, almost exclusively seen in females. It may occur in one or multiple glands and usually occurs in lactating animals. It is a fairly uncommon condition, but occurs more frequently in bitches (female dogs) than in queens (female cats).

Mastitis is most commonly caused by an ascending infection from the teat opening. Other potential causes or contributing factors include trauma (from nursing kittens) and hematogenous spread (spread via the blood). It is more common in older cats. Poor hygiene can also be a contributing factor.

Mastitis can be a painful condition that usually is fairly localized, although some animals may become systemically ill or even septic (bacterial infection in the blood).

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Mastitis in Cats

A good history and complete physical exam are very important in establishing the appropriate order of diagnostics. The diagnosis is sometimes made on this basis alone.

Additional tests may include:

In cases of significant systemic illness the following may be recommended:

Treatment of Mastitis in Cats

Home Care and Prevention

If glands are still draining, additional warm water compresses will be required. Nursing puppies may, or may not, need to be weaned but they often require additional nutritional supplementation.

Since mastitis is most often associated with nursing, not allowing your pet to breed is a good preventative measure. The best preventative measure is to have your pet spayed before her first heat.

If you are breeding your pet, make sure that the bedding and surroundings are routinely kept clean. If your pet is lactating, observe the teats daily for any signs of redness, pain or abnormal swellings and discharge.

In-depth Information on Mastitis in Cats

Mastitis is almost always associated with lactating nursing animals. Trauma, poor sanitary conditions, and underling illnesses are potential predisposing factors. Most of the time, mastitis is not an emergency situation, and animals affected are not significantly ill. The only sign might be a queen refusing to let the kittens nurse. This may be taken as a sign of the mother just being immature or uncaring. The mammary glands should always be observed closely if this is occurring.

Mastitis is usually an acute (sudden) condition. If it is left unnoticed, an animal is immunocompromised or a particularly pathogenic (causing significant disease) bacteria is present, the infection can spread to other glands. Occasionally it may cause septicemia (bacterial blood infection). These animals are usually quite ill and require much more intensive care.

Mammary glands may become so inflamed that they may be abscessed or even gangrenous. These conditions require surgical intervention. As apposed to abscessed glands, gangrenous glands have lost their blood supply and are cool, darker and sometimes ulcerated.

Nursing kittens may be in poor nutritional condition due to a lack of nursing allowed (from pain experienced by the mother during nursing) or poor nutritional content of the infected milk. The nursing on infected glands itself generally is not detrimental to the animal.

Disorders that can cause clinical signs similar to mastitis include:

In-depth Information on Diagnosis of Mastitis in Cats

Many times the diagnosis of mastitis is based on the history, physical exam findings and response to therapy. In a young, lactating mother with a warm, painful, swollen mammary gland, and a low-grade fever, a tentative diagnosis of mastitis is often assumed. Additional tests to confirm the diagnosis is usually a reasonable approach, but might not always be practical. Placing the animal on antibiotics and an ensuing resolution of clinical signs supports the presumed diagnosis. Some recommended tests may include:

In-depth Information on Treatment of Mastitis in Cats

The treatment for mastitis is usually fairly uncomplicated and rapidly responsive to antibiotic therapy. Treatment of the nursing neonates is usually more labor intensive and difficult. There is some debate on whether or not to let the nursing animals continue to do so. The continued nursing of the neonates, if allowed by the dam, is actually beneficial in the treatment of mastitis since the infected milk is continually drained from the teat. Additionally, the ingestion of infected or antibiotic containing milk is generally not a problem (unless the gland is abscesses or gangrenous) in the young animal. However, the infected milk is of poorer nutritional value, so neonates usually will require nutritional supplementation. Indications for weaning kittens include milk that is grossly purulent, discolored, foul smelling or kittens that are not nursing on their own, losing weight or have vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Occasionally, mastitis may be associated with septicemia or a bacterial blood infection. This requires much more aggressive care and hospitalization. It is a life threatening condition, but fortunately is only rarely seen.

Some treatments may include:

Follow-up Care

Optimal treatment for your pet requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your pet does not improve rapidly.

Administer all medications as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your pet. Make sure she is eating and drinking adequately.

Apply warm water compresses as directed by your veterinarian.
Usually, no more then a few days of compresses are needed at home. Make sure the affected glands are decreasing in size and becoming less painful with time. With treatment, the glands should normalize. Make sure the infection or swelling is not spreading to the other glands.

If neonates are weaned, they will need to be hand-reared. A variety of milk replacement products are available.