Mastitis in cats refers to an inflammation of the mammary glands, it occurs when the glands of the nursing cat become inflamed, blocked or infected, it can also occur in cats that have had a pseudo-pregnancy.
In most cases, mastitis is caused by a bacterial infection . Trauma to the nipple or teat canal can allow bacteria to enter the teat canal into the mammary gland and create a bacterial infection. Even in the absence of trauma, a cat living in unsanitary conditions can be exposed to large amounts of bacteria and other irritants, allowing this upward infection to occur.
Less commonly, mastitis can occur without evidence of infection. Trauma to the mammary gland, or a long time of accumulation of milk without expressing it, can cause inflammation within the mammary gland.
Mastitis is most often seen postpartum, after a cat gives birth. Many cases follow sudden weaning (which can lead to an excessive accumulation of milk within the gland) or the death of a kitten (leading to a decrease in the extraction of milk from the glands).
How to know if my cat has mastitis
Here are the signs of mastitis . In mild or recent cases of mastitis, the first sign may be that the kittens are not gaining weight as fast as they should. With a glance, you can see a slight inflammation of the affected mammary gland, you see that the cat has accumulated milk . At this time, the cat does not usually show any signs of illness or only a little discomfort.
As mastitis progresses, the infected mammary gland will become increasingly swollen, inflamed, discolored (often red or purple), and painful. The mammary glands can also become ulcerated, with open wounds and visible scabs. Milk expressed from the infected mammary gland may contain blood or pus, or be visibly cloudy or thick.
In severe cases, cats can be visibly ill. The affected mammary gland may be dark purple or black in color as the tissues begin to die due to an overwhelming infection and decreased blood supply. In this phase, female cats may become lethargic, have a fever, refuse to eat, or begin to vomit, as the infection enters the bloodstream and they develop signs of septicemia.
Causes of feline mastitis
In mastitis, the most common cause of breast inflammation in cats is bacteria. Bacteria enter the breast through the nipple and cause the inflammation and swelling seen with mastitis. Cats that live in dirty environments, especially lactating cats, are prone to developing mastitis. When the bacteria are exposed to the nipple canal, it can reach the breast where it causes mastitis.
Trauma or injury to a breast can also cause mastitis . Inflammation caused by some type of injury can expose the nipple canal to bacteria or simply cause inflammation in the breast without bacterial involvement. Cats that are run over by cars, have been in fights, or have suffered other trauma to the breast area are at risk for mastitis.
Usually, the female cats who have recently given birth and breastfeeding are more likely to be affected by mastitis.
In addition to bacteria and trauma, lactating cats can develop mastitis if there is a cat with accumulated milk in one breast. This may be due to prematurely weaned kittens , the loss of a kitten, or if they are not using all the breasts for nursing.
Diagnosis of mastitis in cats
In many cases, a physical exam is sufficient to detect mastitis . Sometimes lab tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other conditions.
The laboratory tests that may be recommended for mastitis are:
- Complete blood cell count: This blood test assesses the levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your cat’s blood. Changes in the white blood cell count indicate infection and the severity of the infection.
- Milk cytology: In this test, a small sample of milk from the affected mammary gland is examined under a microscope. The presence of white blood cells (pus) or bacteria confirms the diagnosis of mastitis.
- Bacterial culture:In some cases, especially when the mastitis is attributed to an infection and does not respond to the usual antibiotics, a bacterial culture may be necessary. The milk will be collected from the mammary gland and sent to a laboratory so that the bacteria can be isolated and characterized. Once the bacteria are isolated, the most effective antibiotic for treatment can be established.
How I Help My Cat With Mastitis
In most cases, mastitis treatment can be done at home, with oral antibiotics and pain medications . This treatment is the most advisable, since it allows the cat to breastfeed her kittens.
In these cases, I must monitor the antibiotics that are being used, also any reaction that your cat or her kittens may have to the medication and the continuous weight gain of the little ones.
The vet may advise hand-milking the infected gland . This lessens discomfort, stimulates blood flow, and promotes healing. Manual expression of milk should be done every 6 hours.
Veterinarians often recommend applying a warm compress to the infected nipples, which helps them open and drain.
In severe cases of mastitis they may require hospitalization for intravenous fluid therapy and injectable medications. In some cases, surgical removal of necrotic or severely infected glands may be necessary. For this reason, it is important to treat mastitis as soon as signs are observed and to administer all medications as prescribed by the vet.
Possible evolution of mastitis after treatment
Most cases of mastitis have a good prognosis. The signs subside in 2-3 weeks with proper treatment.
In cases of severe mastitis, or when the cat develops a systemic blood-borne infection, the prognosis is reserved, even with treatment.
The best way to prevent mastitis is to keep your “nest” clothes clean. Mother cats constantly clean themselves and their kittens, but they also lie down in the “nest” they have prepared to nurse their young, exposing their nipples to possible bacterial contamination if clothing is not clean.
You can also prevent mastitis by making sure that kittens are suckling from all nipples, not just some, and checking that they give milk.
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