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Mastitis in Cats
The tortoise-shell appeared at the end of the field. Her movements were awkward, not “cat-like” and smooth. As she drew closer to the feral feeders, I saw a large red sac hanging below her back leg. Concerned, I grabbed for a towel I keep in the barn and hoped I would be able to capture her without needing to take time to set up a trap. Turns out, she was very friendly. I scooped her up gently and carried her upstairs.
Rolling her over gently on her back, I was horrified to see her belly erupting with holes and abscesses. As I poured Hydrogen Peroxide into the gaping wounds, maggots began pouring out like fire ants from a hill. Realizing she needed more than just basic first aid, I rushed her to my vet.
Dr. Ben declared she had acute septic mastitis. An hour after he started the exam, he finally stopped trying to remove the maggots. He had flushed, tweezed, grabbed and flushed some more while evicting the horde. He did succeed in gathering quite a crowd, but there were stragglers left behind. Tortie endured the treatment well, only biting me once. Turned out she was declawed on the front; otherwise my hands would have been a maze of scratches. He then gave her an antibiotic shot, pumped antibiotics into her wounds, placing the antibacterial ointment deep into the wounds.
So what causes mastitis?
Acute septic mastitis- when the mammary glands become so infected they abscess. Left untreated, the abscess can become gangrenous.
Non-septic mastitis- If there is milk in the mammary glands, and the teats are blocked, or the kittens are not around to relieve the pressure then the queen’s milk accumulates in the glands. The stagnant pool of liquid invites bacteria in; much like stagnant water in your backyard invites mosquitoes to breed. This also opens the door to infection. During weaning, if the kittens are pulled off the queen to early, Non-septic mastitis could appear.
Signs of mastitis:
Mastitis can appear suddenly with little warning. Look for heat coming up around the nipples, swelling around the base of the teats and watch the queen’s behavior for any sudden changes. If you suspect your cat has mastitis, please call your vet immediately! Place warm, damp compresses on kitty's stomach on the way to the vet. Your vet can diagnose mastitis either by a clinical exam, or through lab results by testing the discharge. If your cat goes into a false pregnancy, this too can trigger a bout of mastitis.
Untreated, mammary glands continue to grow becoming rock hard. Then they explode causing crater like holes in the abdomen. The tissue begins to die, or get gangrenous. Tortie’s saving grace was the maggots. Although they were a bit gruesome to see inside of her wounds, the maggots were busy eating dead tissue and killing the bacteria. Once the dead tissue had been eaten, they would have crawled out and gone on to become flies. In hospitals today maggots and leeches are used in cases of severe wound infections.
If the queen is still nursing and develops mastitis, your vet will determine whether you can continue to let her nurse or if it is time for you to step in and become a surrogate kitty mom.