A cat normally has four pairs of mammary glands or eight individual breasts. There are two mammary gland conditions that can affect the nursing queen and one when not nursing.
Feline Mammary Hypertrophy
Feline Mammary Hypertrophy or breast swelling does occur from hormonal changes but not during lactation. Hypertrophy in cats does resemble acute mastitis and the glands can be tender to the touch. Mammary Hypertrophy rarely needs treatment and with time it will cure.
Caked Breasts and Acute Septic Mastitis are common problems new moms may face. Caked Breast (Galactosis) is an accumulation of milk in the mammary glands in late pregnancy and early lactation. This milk builds up “Cakes” inside the breast making it difficult to remove. Once the queen nurses and the glands are drained the problem will resolve. Infection is not a factor, and the queen does not appear ill.
This milk accumulation may increase to the point that the breasts become painful and warm and the retention of milk sets the stages for infection or feline mastitis. Hot packing the breast if needed will ease moms nursing. Most cases need no treatment.
Septic Mastitis in cats is infection of the breast tissue. Fluid expressed from the breast will look like milk is clear or even lumpy. Litmus paper may be used to test acidity. Normal feline breast milk tests to a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. If the milk pH is 7.0, you may be faced with acute septic mastitis. Acute mastitis is an infection of the milk retained in the breast. Heavy milking queens or queens that have lost a couple of kittens and now have excess milk should be monitored daily. The swollen nipple and breast may cause the teat cannel to open slightly allowing bacteria to gain access. In older litters a scratch or injury from rough nursing can increase the chances of infection. It can occur from 24 hours before birth to weaning. Occasionally feline mastitis is blood-borne and associated with uterine infection (acute metritis). Mastitis from any cause can be life or death to the queen and should be treated by a veterinarian.
What are the Signs of Mastitis in Cats?
Signs of acute mastitis in mother cats range from soreness to refusing to eat, listless and high fever. If the mastitis is left untreated in cats abscess formation and loss of the gland can result. When the teats become swollen and painful often mom won’t allow the kittens to nurse. This is where your queen needs veterinary attention. Milk may be blood tinged, thick, yellow or string-like. In some cases the milk will look normal, yet test to a pH of 7.0 or greater. If the queen does allow nursing milk from an infected breast is toxic and often contains bacteria and taste bad making kittens reluctant to nurse. It is important to have a milk replacer such as Breeder’s Edge® Foster Care™ ready to supplement the litter or adopt the litter to another queen with babies.
Mastitis prevention involves trimming the nails of kittens at two to three weeks old to decrease the chance of scratching. In long haired queens, the hair around the mammary glands should be shaved before birth being careful not to damage the nipple that is becoming prominent.
Mastitis in Cats Treatment
Apply warm moist packs twice a day and express the gland to draw out some of the coagulated milk to keep the gland open. Your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate antibiotic. Reducing the queen’s food intake will stop milk production for queens with no kittens. Queens that have had mastitis should be started on antibiotic before giving birth with any future litters to prevent re-occurrence of mastitis.
It is good to note that most queens have no issues and give birth, nurse and wean without help. Having a working knowledge of mastitis and having milk replacer for the litter on hand can save your litter and queen when an issue does arise.
If you need help or have more questions on mastitis in cats symptoms or treatment or other nursing cat problems, call us at 800.786.4751.
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