What are Bacterial Infection of the Lactating Glands?
Rabbits who are suffering from a bacterial infection may show a variety of signs such as depression and anorexia, in some cases, the doe may reject the young or the suckling young may become ill. The prognosis for a rabbit with lactation infection is drastically improved if treatment is commenced immediately. If your lactating rabbit is showing symptoms of a lactation infection, it is vital that you contact your veterinarian immediately.
Bacterial infection of the lactating glands in rabbits is caused by the introduction of bacteria into the gland. This condition is most commonly found in lactating does, however may be due to poor sanitation or trauma.
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Symptoms of Bacterial Infection of the Lactating Glands in Rabbits
- Heat and swelling to the mammary glands (one or more glands may be affected)
- Localized discolor ranging from red to dark blue
- Discharge that may or may not be purulent
- Aggression or irritation when nursing young due to pain
- Death or illness in the young
- Streptococcus aureus
- Streptococcus pasteurella
- Chlamydia trachomatis
Causes of Bacterial Infection of the Lactating Glands in Rabbits
Due to the nature of the illness females are only affected. Mastitis is caused caused by bacteria entering the gland, this can be via the bloodstream, teat ducts or through a lesion on the gland. This condition most commonly affects lactating does in the early stages of lactation and may occur following trauma, from the young to the teat, or in pseudopregnant does with milk retention. Factors that increase the risk are:
- Heavy lactation
- Injury to the teat or mammary gland
- Abrasive bedding or caging
- Poor hygiene
- Early weaning of sucklings
Diagnosis of Bacterial Infection of the Lactating Glands in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will look at the clinical signs and history of your pet. If your pet is presenting with a fever, swollen mammary glands and a history of lactation, mastitis will be suspected.
To confirm septic mastitis, she may express milk from the teat for cytology or bacteria cultures. If an infection is present, macrophages or degenerate neutrophils with intracellular bacteria may be seen. The identification of the bacteria causing the infection will confirm the diagnosis and determine the best medication for treatment.
In order to rule out mammary neoplasia which may present with similar symptoms your veterinarian may choose to perform a fine needle aspiration. A complete blood count, chemical blood profile and urinalysis may also be carried out which will be able to identify if septicemia or severe dehydration have occurred.
Treatment of Bacterial Infection of the Lactating Glands in Rabbits
As the prognosis for rabbits is drastically improved with quick treatment, your veterinarian may commence treatment with a broad spectrum antibiotic while awaiting the culture and sensitivity results. When culture results become available your veterinarian may escalate treatment by selecting a stronger drug, or de-escalate treatment to a lower-tier drug if indicated.
The most common choices are enrofloxacin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole combination, and penicillin. These medications may cause diarrhea, so force feeding of high calorie, nutrient dense food may be necessary for your pet’s well-being. High-fiber foods may also provide support to the gastrointestinal system.
Pain relief may be offered through NSAIDS or opiates. Your veterinarian may perform blood tests prior to giving the NSAID as it is metabolized by the liver and contraindicated for animals suffering from renal or liver failure. Your rabbit may also require a prolactin inhibitor to stop or reduce lactation
Fluid therapy may be given to help regulate temperature and maintain hydration status. Heat packs can be applied 3-4 times daily and tissue massage may be helpful to promote drainage.
Young rabbits will need to be removed from the mother. Due to the risk of infection to other female rabbits it is not recommended that they are placed in other litters. Your veterinarian will be able to advise the best option for them depending on age. From 6-8 weeks weaning can be successful and the prognosis is good. For younger kits, bottle feeding is an option, however it can be difficult and in some cases, the most humane option may be euthanasia.
Recovery of Bacterial Infection of the Lactating Glands in Rabbits
The prognosis is variable depending on how quickly treatment is sought. If your pet is given prompt treatment the prognosis is good. Unfortunately, the prognosis for the litter is guarded, particularly for the very young, in these cases euthanasia may be the most humane option.
To prevent re-infection ensure your pet’s bedding is changed and enclosure thoroughly disinfected. If an abscess drain surgery has taken place, your rabbit will need to revisit the veterinarian for drain and suture removal. For rabbits who require a mastectomy, revisit appointments will be essential. Seroma is a common problem after mastectomy in rabbits, and your pet may need ongoing care to drain the fluid.