Q: My three-year-old Rottweiler bitch, Sally, has recently whelped. She is fine in herself and the pups are doing very well, but her last two mammary glands are swollen, sore and hot, and the milk is cloudy. I realize this is mastitis and I'm worried she may lose the pups. Are there any natural treatments that can help? M.L., via email
A: You're right about this being mastitis-an inflammation of the mammary glands that can lead to abscess formation and even gangrene. But you don't need to worry; there's plenty you can do to get Sally well and wagging her tail again. Here's a roundup of some natural herbs, supplements and alternative creams that I've found to be effective. They can all be used alongside systemic antibiotics.
PropolisA natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, this sticky substance made by bees from plant resins can be used topically or taken orally to help heal mastitis. Propolis has a long history of use as a natural medicine; the Greeks used it to treat abscesses, the Assyrians used it for healing wounds and the Egyptians used it for mummification. In one animal study, topically applied propolis worked better than the steroid dexamethasone for repairing and healing skin wounds. Propolis creams and tablets are widely available from health-food stores and online.
HerbsBoswellia serrata is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that can help soothe hot, painful mammary glands. Turmeric is also useful as it contains anti-inflammatory agents called curcuminoids.
Camrosa ointmentThis multipurpose ointment for animals (available from www.camrosa.co.uk; tel: 01892 783 240) is brilliant for sore, cracked skin. This combination of stearic acids-waxy natural saturated fatty acids (tallow)-sodium salts and petroleum-derived hydrocarbon molecules processed into an oil makes a water-repellent, protective barrier that promotes the natural healing process. Apply it to affected areas twice daily.
Natural stem-cell enhancersI always use natural stem-cell-enhancing supplements in dogs with mastitis to speed up the healing process. I know of cases of gangrenous mastitis that healed completely without surgery. Mastitis, like any disease, is the result of accumulated dead or damaged cells in a tissue or organ. If the damaged cells are replaced with healthy ones, the disease is 'cured'.
When cells are damaged, they release something called 'granulocyte colony-stimulating factor' (G-CSF), which migrates to bone marrow, where it stimulates adult stem cells to replicate exact copies of themselves. These new adult stem cells then move through the bloodstream to where the cell damage is, guided by the various molecules that damaged cells release to attract stem cells to repair the damage.
This natural repair-and-renewal system takes place constantly because cells in the body only live for a predetermined number of days or years before they have to be replaced. Plus cells become damaged by disease, free radicals, toxic pollutants, poor diet and stress.
Two pioneering scientists, Dr Gitte Jensen and Christian Drapeau in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, discovered the physiology behind this system in 2000-2001. They had been working for years with a blue-green algae called Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA; Latin for 'invisible living flower of the water'), a superfood consumed in North America and Europe for more than three decades. It contains the L-selectin ligand now called MobilinTM, which acts just like G-CSF.
They discovered that AFA stimulates adult stem cells in bone marrow to replicate and then release the replicated stem cells into the bloodstream, leaving the sister stem cells in situ so as not to deplete adult stem-cell numbers in bone marrow.
Foods like this are called 'natural stem-cell enhancers' and, once consumed, they cause bone marrow to release millions of extra adult stem cells, which can then go about their normal repair jobs throughout the body.
I've been using natural stem-cell enhancers such as StemPets (www.stemtech.com) in animals for three years now with remarkable results.
What is it?Mastitis is an inflammation and infection of the mammary glands that typically arises in nursing bitches. The severity of the condition can vary, but usually the affected glands and teats are swollen, sore, hot and inflamed, and the milk is discoloured-red if lots of red blood cells are present, pus-coloured if there's serious infection.
The bitch is usually fine in herself, but if the infection gets into the bloodstream, she may become septic, leading to lethargy and loss of appetite. She will also have a temperature. In this case, she may well require hospitalization, with intravenous antibiotics and fluid therapy.
Occasionally the mammary gland becomes necrotic and gangrene sets in. In this case, the glands may also appear dark or black in colour. Most vets would then anaesthetize the bitch and surgically remove the dead necrotic tissue, but I've seen fantastic recoveries in animals treated with natural stem-cell enhancers.
What causes it?Common bacteria such as Escherichia coli, streptococcI and staphylococci-all normally inhabitants of the intestines and skin of dogs-are usually responsible for canine mastitis. These bacteria can enter the mammary glands through the skin of the gland, especially if it's broken, or via the bloodstream. Puppies' nails can cause cuts and abrasions to the mammary glands, so allowing bacteria to get in, so it's important to keep the pups' nails clipped. Once a bitch has had mastitis, she may be more prone to developing it again later on.
How is it diagnosed?Mastitis is usually diagnosed from its clinical signs and symptoms. Milk from the affected glands should be sent away for tests (bacterial culture and sensitivity, cytology) to confirm the diagnosis. If the bitch is ill, then a full blood analysis should be performed to rule out kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes.
Tests should also be done to check if the bitch has low calcium or blood sugar levels. Ultrasound can be performed on the glands if abscesses are suspected.
What's the conventional treatment?Antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics like clavulanate-potentiated amoxicillin (Synulox) can be started before the bacterial culture and sensitivity results come back from the laboratory. If it turns out the bacteria are resistant to this antibiotic, a different one should then be prescribed.
Surgery. Removal and drainage of the infected tissue may be necessary if the mammary gland becomes abscessed or gangrenous.
Home remediesHere are some simple steps you can take to help speed Sally's recovery and ensure that her pups stay well.
1- Make sure the whelping box is always clean and tidy. Newspaper is an ideal bedding material and should be replaced often.
2- If the puppies are avoiding the infected teats, those glands need to be milked out twice a day.
3- Soak the affected glands in warm water, or use a hot pack to soothe them and keep them clean. Cooked white cabbage leaves applied to the glands, wrapped with vet wrap and left for two hours, is anecdotally reported to help draw out fluids and inflammation.
4- There is no need to take the pups away from Sally unless she is systemically ill or the glands are necrotic (with dying tissue). In fact, the suckling pups will help express the infected glands. But if the pups are removed from her, they will obviously then need to be hand-reared.
1 J Venom Anim Toxins incl Trop Dis [online], 2007; 13: 697-710
2 ISRN Dermatology, 2012; 2012: Article ID 282973, 5 pages