What is Lactation Infection?
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 such as anorexia or redness and swelling of the mammary glands, it is vital that you contact your veterinarian immediately.
Lactation infection, or septic mastitis is the inflammation and infection of the mammary glands in female does. Trauma and poor sanitation are risk factors for developing mastitis, which presents with inflammation and redness.
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Symptoms of Lactation Infection in Rabbits
One of the most common symptoms is heat and swelling to the mammary area, this often starts in one gland and then spreads, with localised discolor to skin ranging from red to dark blue.
Other symptoms may include:
- Discharge that may or may not be containing pus
- Aggression or irritation when nursing young due to pain
- Death or illness in the young
Disorders of the mammary glands in rabbits include:
- Primary bacterial infection (causative organisms include Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species)
- Cystic mastitis (hormonal and often occurring in non-breeding females and associated with increased estrogen, uterine hyperplasia or tumors such as uterine adenocarcinoma)
- Secondary bacterial infection following malignant or benign tumors or cancers
Causes of Lactation Infection in Rabbits
- Due to the nature of the illness females only are affected, however, there appears to be no geographic, breed or age bias
- Factors that increase the risk are heavy lactation, injury to the teat or mammary gland, abrasive bedding or caging
- Mastitis can be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus aureus and Streptococcus pasteurella being introduced through the duct in the teat
Diagnosis of Lactation Infection 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 exudates from the gland for cytology or bacteria cultures. The results of these cultures will confirm the diagnosis and determine the best medication for treatment. A complete blood count, chemical blood profile, and urinalysis may also be carried out which will be able to confirm if a systemic infection has occurred.
Treatment of Lactation Infection in Rabbits
Ideally your veterinarian would await the results of the bacterial cultures prior to commencing antibiotic treatment, however as the prognosis for rabbits is drastically improved by early treatment your veterinarian will choose the most appropriate medication based on your pet’s clinical signs and most likely causative bacteria. 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 or a trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole combination. These medications may cause diarrhea, so force feeding of high calorie, nutrient dense food may be necessary for your pet’s well-being. High-fibre foods may also provide support to the gastrointestinal system. Pain relief will 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.
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 passing infection to other female rabbits, it is not recommended that the young 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.
Surgical excision or mastectomy may be necessary if your pet has a severe infection. Risks are involved with surgery due to the need for sedation or general anesthetic which may depress the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Recovery of Lactation Infection 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, follow-up appointments will be essential. Seroma (buildup of bodily fluids) is a common problem after mastectomy in rabbits, and your pet may need ongoing care to drain the fluid.