Nursing puppies is the most natural thing in the world for a mother dog -- but natural doesn't mean nursing always proceeds smoothly. Any nursing mammal can develop breast infections. Because bacteria are present, medical care is necessary. You can treat some conditions involving engorged canine mammaries at home.
Normal Canine Teats
A nursing mother dog's teats should be large and soft. Her puppies' frequent nursing should keep them from becoming swollen and hard. Check your nursing dog's teats every day to make sure they are soft and expressing milk. The mother dog should allow her babies to nurse freely. If she doesn't, something may be wrong.
Mastitis in Dogs
If your nursing dog develops mastitis, a breast infection and inflammation, you need to seek veterinary attention. Bacteria including staphylococci, streptococci or E. coli might be involved. In worst-case scenarios, these infections can lead to septic shock and can kill your dog. Dogs with mastitis suffer from pain, and the mammary glands might express blood or pus, or green or yellow milk. When the illness makes nursing painful, mother dogs won't let puppies suck, causing the babies' health to diminish quickly. Bring your dog and the puppies to the vet for treatment. Your vet can recommend appropriate puppy milk replacement formula for you to feed the little ones while their mother recuperates, if that becomes necessary.
Your vet will culture a small sample of your mama dog's milk to determine the type of bacteria involved. If a teat abscesses from infection, your vet must lance and drain it. She prescribes specific antibiotics based on various factors, including the type of bacteria present, the disease severity and whether the pups can continue to nurse. If the mother dog is only mildly affected, your vet might prescribe an antibiotic that is safe for the puppies to consume via the milk. If only one or two teats are affected, the puppies can nurse off the others while you hand-milk the mother dog for several days. You can also apply hot packs to ease discomfort.
Sore After Weaning
If your dog's breasts still engorge after the puppies are weaned, that's a condition you can treat on your own. Galactostasis refers to milk buildup in the teats. It occurs when puppies no longer nurse or have been removed from the mother. Don't try to "milk" the mother dog -- that just encourages more milk production. Put an old tee shirt on the mother dog so she can't lick her mammaries and stimulate milk production. You can put hot packs on the teats for relief, fastening them inside the shirt. Giving her half rations of food for a few days aids in stopping milk production. If your dog appears to be in pain, call your vet and ask about appropriate pain medication.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.