“My dog just had puppies a couple of nights ago, and suddenly she’s behaving very strangely. She won’t let the puppies drink, and they are hungry, and crying out. It’s like she wants to let them suckle, but then she just doesn’t, she jumps back out of the puppy box, and she seems a bit off colour, too…” The words spat into my ear, all in a rush, and the lady’s voice was steeped with stress.
“Well- I just happen to be able to come and see you straight away, which is lucky,” I told her.
The relief in her reply was palpable, and I collected her details, pulled up a map on my iPhone, and then followed the magic blue line to her door. A worried face was waiting in the window, and the door swung open before I could even pull the park brake on. Before long I was being ushered in the door.
“Just wait a minute,” I said. “New doggy mums can be a bit protective of new puppies, so I’d like to just ease into her space nice and slowly…”
I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. Direct eye contact in these sorts of situations is a bad, bad idea. She seemed nervous, but not aggressive, and even came over and gave my hand a bit of a sniff. Before long she was sitting quite calmly whilst I examined her carefully. Firstly, I took her temperature. the digital thermometer beeped, and I checked the screen.
“Wow!” I told the worried family, all watching me very intently. “She has a raging fever- 40.1 degrees C – I’m just going to have a feel of her udder. And by the way- has she been vomiting, or drinking more water than usual?”
“No, no vomiting,” “She’s not drinking more than usual either!” The voices of the kids all tumbled over each other, and they all went quiet with a glare from their mum as she said “Be quiet and let the vet do his job, you lot!”
I reached gently under her tummy, and she flinched as I palpated her udder. There was a hard, swollen, hot area there, and when I ever so gently squeezed a little milk out of that mammary gland, it was discoloured and looked yucky.
“She has a nasty mastitis, and infection in her breast here – that’s why she’s not feeding the puppies, because it’s really, really painful. It’s acute, and she’s got a high fever, so I’m going to give her an injection of antibiotics, and some tablets for you to give her as well for the next week. I don’t use antibiotics unless I really need to… and this is one of those times! Do you have a cabbage in the fridge?” I asked.
“I do,” came back the puzzled reply.
“Something else you can do right now when I leave, is to wrap up all this area with a layer of raw cabbage leaves – hold them on there gently for 5-10 minutes. They are really good at drawing the heat, pain and swelling out of mastitis. And the sooner we can get her comfortable enough to feed the pups, the better it will be for both her and them. They will help flush out the infected glands, and help her heal, and they are super hungry!”
“Now I think of it, I had a friend who had mastitis, and she used cabbage leaves! She said they worked a treat. You mean it works for dogs too?” she asked me.
“It sure does,” I reassured her.
I gave her a shot of antibiotics, and dispensed the tablets as well. Then I headed home for dinner, and a long hot bath. The next day I rang back to check out how she was going.
“Those cabbage leaves really did the trick!” (I could hear her smile all the way down the phone line.) “We held them on for 15 minutes, and then she got straight back in with the puppies and let them have a good long feed. It’s still a little harder today, but it’s nearly back to normal. Thanks so much for your help!”
I saw the pups and mum 7 weeks later for vaccinations. They were a teeming hoard of wriggly, waggly, sharp toothed little demons, chewing on my toes, wrestling and fighting each other, and generally wreaking havoc. The whole family, and especially their long suffering mum, looked like they were very glad that they were all going o their new homes!