Mastitis in rabbits is an inflammation of the female rabbit’s mammary gland during the lactation phase (the phase in which the young are suckled), which in most cases is caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Hemolytic streptococci and pasteurella, both of which are also bacteria, can also cause mastitis in rabbits. Nevertheless, mastitis is counted among the so-called factor diseases.
It is the unfavorable interaction of many circumstances that lead to the outbreak of the disease. Thus, in addition to the bacteria, the environment, hygienic conditions, the predisposition of the particular rabbit and the general state of health play a role in the development of mastitis.
By the way, the inflammation of the mammary does not only occur in lactating rabbits, but in rare cases it can also affect female rabbits without offspring. Often, however, a false pregnancy is then observed.
Main pathogen of mastitis
The pathogen causing mastitis is not only found in animals. We humans also know the main pathogen only too well. Staphylococcus aureus, for example, is one of the most frequently encountered pathogens in hospitals. In addition, it is also extremely resistant to external influences and has already developed numerous antibiotic resistances.
Streptococci, on the other hand, belong to the normal germ flora of humans, while Pasteurella are mainly found in birds and mammals.
Development of mastitis in rabbits
Actually, the mammary gland and the teats are well protected against the penetration of germs. If the skin around the teats is intact, the creatine layer protects the teat skin and the teat canal from the penetration of germs. Should any bacteria nevertheless overcome the barrier, the immune system becomes active and pushes the germs back. In the case of a weakened immune system, high infection pressure (environmental hygiene, stocking density) or increased penetration of germs through the smallest injuries, so-called micro-injuries, Plan B of the rabbit organism occurs – inflammation. Depending on the rabbit’s immune system, the inflammation of the mammary gland can be mild or severe. Mastitis is therefore nothing more than the inflammatory reaction of one or more mammary glands to an infection with bacteria.
In most cases, the bacteria are transmitted orally, i.e. from the young rabbits during the sucking act onto the teat region, which has previously been damaged, for example by the smallest scratches. Here, the bacteria reach deeper layers of the skin and trigger the inflammatory reaction. If mastitis occurs frequently in the herd, the pathogens involved are usually streptococci or pasteurella.
If avocado was fed to the rabbits, avocado poisoning is often to blame for the mastitis. The persin contained in avocados (leaves) has a toxic effect and triggers mastitis, especially in lactating rabbits.
Symptoms of mastitis in rabbits
The clinical picture of mastitis varies greatly depending on its course; in some cases, mastitis is asymptomatic and goes unnoticed by the rabbit owner. About 7 to 12 days after the litter, the first signs of mastitis in rabbits can often be seen only in the changed behavior of the young animals, or the mother rabbit. She is no longer willing to let the young suckle, which in turn sometimes show significant developmental disorders, which, if the mastitis is not recognized, end with death. This is due to the unwillingness of the doe to suckle the young, and also to the decrease in milk production and the altered composition of the mother’s milk.
In severe cases of mastitis, the consistency of the mother’s milk changes to purulent-flaky. In case of any developmental disorders of the young suckling rabbits in the first weeks of life, the doe should therefore always be checked for possible mastitis. The signs in the doe are accompanied by a disturbed general condition, loss of appetite and fever. The typical signs of inflammation can be seen on the udder: redness, swelling, pain, warmth and dysfunction. When attempting to touch the mammary, the rabbit will want to withdraw due to the painfulness. In some cases, there is also an abscess formation that must be surgically treated by opening and cleaning the encapsulated pus focus by the veterinarian.
Treatment of mastitis
The treatment of mastitis in rabbits depends on the severity of the disease. As a rule, antibiotics are prescribed after an appropriate antibiogram (this determines the exact pathogens in order to find the appropriate antibiotic). If the general condition is disturbed and the rabbit is in severe pain, a painkiller is added, and in severe cases the rabbit must be put on a drip.
The young, especially if the entire udder is affected, must be separated from the doe and raised by hand. Appropriate “weaning” medications are then prescribed for the doe to avoid stressing the inflamed mammary by excessive milk production without appropriate utilization.
The prognosis of mastitis in rabbits is good if treated early. Slight inflammations or reddening of the mammary gland can be treated with cooling compresses, provided that the general condition is not disturbed and the young animals are developed according to their age, i.e. there is no malnutrition. If the signs of inflammation do not subside or worsen, a visit to the veterinarian should be made quickly.
Preventing mastitis in rabbits
It is almost impossible to prevent mastitis in rabbits. Even the smallest injuries to the udder are difficult to avoid, but the risk can be reduced to a minimum by ensuring that the whelping box does not pose any risk of injury and by keeping the germ pressure low through meticulous hygiene. Optimal housing and feeding conditions as well as daily control of the nest and the female go without saying. Any changes can thus be detected and eliminated as early as possible.
In the case of stillbirth or deceased litters, the udder should also be kept in mind. In this case, milk production can be slowed down by minimum feeding of the doe, as well as cold compresses, and mastitis can be sensibly prevented by milk stasis. Under no circumstances should milk be extracted, as this does not stop milk production, but on the contrary, stimulates further production.
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