Is Your Cat Having Problems Nursing Her Kittens? She Could Have Mastitis


Is Your Cat Having Problems Nursing Her Kittens? She Could Have Mastitis

Mastitis is no fun for a cat or her kittens. Learn about this breast condition and what you can do to treat and prevent it. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM head shot
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM head shot By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM February 23, 2022 Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print kittens nursing from mother cat
kittens nursing from mother cat Credit: bozhdb / Adobe Stock

Nursing is Mother Nature's way for mothers to nourish their newborn babies. However, nursing can become painful and challenging for cats with a breast condition called mastitis.

Mastitis in cats requires prompt veterinary diagnosis and treatment so that the new mom can comfortably resume doing what she does best—caring for her little kittens.

What is Mastitis?

Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary gland within the breast. It may affect one mammary gland or multiple mammary glands. It is less common in cats than in dogs.

Causes of Mastitis in Cats

Most cases of mastitis in cats are caused by bacteria (Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus sp., Streptococcus sp.) that enter the breast and travel upwards into the mammary glands, causing infection and inflammation.

Bacteria can enter the breast in several ways:

  • Trauma: Trauma to the breast, such as by sharp kitten teeth or traumatic breast injuries, creates an open wound through which bacteria can enter and reach the mammary gland.
  • Unclean living conditions: A dirty environment can be chockfull of bacteria that can enter the breast and cause mastitis.
  • Bloodstream: Bacteria in a cat's bloodstream can travel to the breast.

Less commonly, mastitis in cats can be caused by galactostasis, a non-infectious condition that occurs when the breast suddenly fills with milk. Galactostasis can happen when kittens stop weaning, a kitten dies, or obstruction within the breast prevents the milk from coming out.

Can Only Pregnant Cats Get Mastitis?

Female cats who have recently given birth are most susceptible to mastitis. Uncommonly, female cats who are not pregnant but have a fake pregnancy can also get mastitis.

RELATED: How to Tell if Your Cat Is Pregnant

Symptoms of Mastitis in Cats

Early mastitis is not readily apparent, but the kittens can provide a clue. Mastitis can prevent kittens from nursing well, causing them to not gain weight properly.

Symptoms worsen as the disease progresses:

  • Red, swollen, firm, and painful breasts that feel hot to the touch
  • Changes in milk appearance: thick, pus-like, possible blood
  • Decreased milk production

Mastitis becomes severe when the bacteria in the breast reaches the bloodstream and causes life-threatening sepsis. Signs of severe mastitis include:

  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Neglecting kittens
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Discolored breasts (red, purple, black) as affected mammary tissue begins to die
  • Ulcerations on the affected breasts

Diagnosing Mastitis in Cats

If you think that your cat has mastitis, your veterinarian will ask you questions, such as which symptoms you noticed and when you first noticed them. They will also perform a physical exam, paying close attention to the affected breasts.

Diagnostic testing will help confirm the diagnosis:

  • Milk cytology: Using a microscope, your vet will analyze a milk sample from an affected breast to look for inflammatory cells.
  • Milk culture: A milk culture will help identify the specific type of bacteria causing the mastitis.
  • Blood work: Bloodwork will determine if the bacteria in the affected breast has reached the bloodstream.

How to Treat Mastitis in Cats

Mastitis treatment occurs at home or in the hospital, depending on the condition's severity.

At-Home Treatment Options

Home treatment for mastitis includes oral antibiotics, oral pain and anti-inflammatory medication, and local treatments to the affected breasts. Your veterinarian will provide specific instructions to treat your cat at home.

Your cat's kittens should continue nursing during treatment.

Antibiotics will target the bacteria that most commonly cause mastitis. Your vet will select an oral antibiotic that won't pass through the milk. Give the entire course of antibiotics to ensure that all bacteria are killed.

Pain and anti-inflammatory medication will help relieve the pain and inflammation associated with mastitis.

Local treatments are described below:

  • Hand milking: Hand milking of the affected breasts should be performed about every 6 hours to prevent milk accumulation.
  • Cabbage leaves: Cold cabbage leaves can help relieve pain and inflammation. Wrap two leaves together and apply them to the affected breasts for several hours a day, leaving several hours in between each application.
  • Warm compresses: Warm compresses can be applied every few hours to promote circulation within the affected breasts and provide pain relief.

RELATED: How to Give a Cat Liquid Medicine

Hospital Treatment

Cats with severe mastitis need to be treated with intravenous fluids and aggressive antibiotic therapy in the hospital. Affected breasts with dead mammary tissue require surgical removal.

Kittens may need to be supplemented with formula while their mom is being treated.

Treatment cost largely depends on the severity of your cat's mastitis. Including the cost of diagnostic testing, you can expect to pay at least several hundred dollars. This cost could be significantly higher, though, if your cat needs hospitalization.

For many cats with mastitis, the affected breasts return to normal in a few weeks with appropriate treatment. More severe cases will require a longer recovery. Unfortunately, cats can die from severe mastitis, even with aggressive treatment, meaning it's important to keep an eye out for signs and bring your cat into the vet ASAP if you notice anything unusual.

How to Prevent Mastitis in Cats

A few strategies can help prevent mastitis in cats:

  • Immediately remove and clean any dirty bedding in the nursing area
  • Trim kittens' nails
  • Ensure that kittens nurse from all nipples equally
  • Shave the hair around the breasts
  • Spay your cat

Mastitis in cats is a painful condition that requires veterinary care. If your cat has mastitis, prompt and proper treatment will increase her chances of making an excellent recovery.

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