Mastitis in cats is not unlike mastitis in other animals. It is a painful condition that some female cats who have not been spayed can experience. If you think your cat has developed this painful problem, you should get it relief as soon as possible.
What Is Mastitis?
Inflammation of the breast is called mastitis and can occur in any animal with breasts, including cats. Inflammation causes redness, pain, and swelling to the affected breast but can occur in one or multiple breasts of a cat.
Signs of Mastitis in Cats
You can identify mastitis by looking at your cat's breasts to see if they are swollen, red, and feel warmer than the rest of its body. There may be some discharge from the teat and the breast will most likely be painful to your cat if you try to touch it.
An early indicator that your cat has mastitis may be that the kittens they are nursing are not gaining weight as they should. This may be because milk is not able to pass through the inflamed teat canal and therefore the kitten does not get the food it needs.
Severe cases of mastitis in a cat will cause the breast to turn a purple color, have sores or ulcerations on it, and blood or pus may come out of the teat. These cats often have fevers, are lethargic, have a decreased appetite, and eventually start vomiting if the infection has entered the bloodstream.
A veterinarian will diagnose mastitis by observing the symptoms but may also check the white blood cell count of your cat, look at the milk under the microscope for bacteria, or even see if there is bacteria that will grow from a culture of the teat and/or milk.
Causes of Mastitis
In mastitis, the most common reason for breast inflammation to occur is due to bacteria. Bacteria enters the breast through the teat canal and causes the inflammation and swelling that is seen with mastitis. Cats that live in dirty environments, especially if they are nursing kittens, are prone to developing mastitis. When the bacteria is exposed to the teat canal (opening to the breast), it can travel up into the breast where it causes the mastitis.
Trauma to a breast can also cause mastitis. The inflammation caused by some sort of injury can expose the teat canal to bacteria or simply cause the inflammation in the breast without bacterial involvement. Cats that are hit by cars, that have been in fights, or that have endured other trauma to the breast area are all at risk for developing mastitis.
Usually female cats who have recently given birth and that are nursing are the only cats that are affected by mastitis. Kittens may not be clean when they nurse and push and climb on the breasts with their tiny paws, urine and feces may be present from the kittens where the mother cat is nursing, and outdoor cats who have recently given birth may be involved in a fight with another animal or hit by a car.
In addition to bacteria and trauma, nursing female cats may develop mastitis if there is sudden milk accumulation in a breast. This can occur due to prematurely weaned kittens, the loss of a kitten, or if kittens are not using all the breasts to nurse.
If mastitis is the result of a bacterial infection it will need to be treated with antibiotics. Special medicated wipes may be recommended by your veterinarian and antibiotics, probiotics, pain medications, and anti-inflammatory medications may also be prescribed to treat the infection and its symptoms.
If your cat has mastitis, it will need to be seen by a veterinarian. You can, however, keep the teat clean by gently wiping it with a warm, wet cloth and ensure all bedding that the cat is lying on is as clean as possible.
Cabbage leaf compression, as strange as it may sound, is also regularly recommended to treat mastitis in cats. This is done by taking a cabbage leaf, applying it to the inflamed teat, and leaving it there for about three hours. A bandage or small t-shirt is often used to hold the leaf in place on a cat. The cabbage leaf is then removed for another three hours and this process is repeated as needed or recommended.
How to Prevent Mastitis
The best way you can help prevent mastitis in a cat is by keeping its bedding clean. Mother cats are constantly cleaning themselves and their kittens, but they are also regularly lying down to nurse their young, exposing their teats to potential bacterial contamination if the bedding is not clean.
You can also help prevent mastitis by making sure the kittens are nursing from all of the teats and not just a few of them, and routinely checking the teats for normal milk production by gently expressing them.
Mastitis In Small Animals - Reproductive System - Veterinary Manual. Veterinary Manual, 2020
Wilson, Courtney. Feline Gangrenous Mastitis. Pubmed Central (PMC), 2020