Pet Factsheets

Mammary swelling and discharge from the nipple, typical of cystic mastitis
©Richard Saunders

Mastitis is an infection of the mammary tissue which causes pain, swelling, heat in the area and redness. The condition can be serious and needs prompt veterinary treatment so the rabbit does not deteriorate and suffer unnecessarily.

What rabbits are likely to get mastitis?

Mastitis is much more common in female rabbits that are lactating (after having a litter of babies), or those female rabbits having a pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy). With a false pregnancy the rabbit will behave like they are pregnant (build a nest and often have mammary development), but they will not be pregnant.

The condition can occur in any female rabbit of any age or breed.

In very rare cases the condition may occur in male or neutered rabbits, depending upon the cause.

What causes mastitis?

Trauma to the mammary tissue is a common cause. In lactating rabbits, this often occurs from the litter as they are feeding. Poor hygiene in the environment is also thought to play a role and if the rabbit has excessive milk (the litter unfortunately dies, etc), then mastitis may occur.

What signs may my rabbit exhibit?

The signs which a rabbit may demonstrate include hot, swollen, firm and painful mammary glands, they may be pyretic (have a high body temperature), become anorexic, depressed and lethargic. If the rabbit is feeding a litter, they are likely to reject them due to the pain of the litter attempting to feed.

How will my vet make a diagnosis?

Your vet will take a full clinical history and perform a clinical examination on your rabbit. It is important to tell your vet any information which may or may not be relevant, so they can take this into account. A diagnosis is often made, based on the clinical findings and history.

Samples of the expressed milk should also be taken and sent away for testing to assess which antibiotic is suitable.

What treatment will my rabbit need?

Your rabbit will need supportive treatment in the way of pain relief, expression of milk, warm poultice of the affected glands, syringe feeding and fluid therapy if they are not eating or drinking, as well as prokinetic medication to help keep the GI tract moving. They will also require antibiotics based on any test results. In most cases this will affect a cure but may take several days or weeks before improvement is seen. In extreme cases, surgery to remove the affected mammary glands may also be required.

Early weaning of the baby rabbits will also need to be undertaken.

Is there anything that can be done to prevent it occurring?

Ideally, do not breed from your rabbit and get her spayed. This is the best way of preventing mastitis and also pseudopregnancies which are far more common in entire female rabbits.

If you are planning on breeding from your rabbit, then take extra care to ensure her environment is kept clean (without disturbing her or the babies) and check her mammary area daily for signs of mastitis.

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