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Pony mare with mastitis

From: Lisa

Dear Horse sense.

For the past two weeks my 8 year old Connemara has been suffering from a swollen udder, other symptoms include; pain and heat in the udder area. The inside of both her back legs are also swollen therefore finding mobilising very difficult and painful. I logged onto the internet to try to find some explanation to this. When logging onto your website, I found a letter that was submitted with a horse suffering from more or less the same symptoms as my mare, except my mare has pain and heat along with the swelling. I myself have also had a veterinary opinion. The diagnosis was mastitis, but the vet cannot really offer any explanation or effective treatment for this. Can you help in any way?

Thank you! Lisa

Hi Lisa! I hope that by now you have found another veterinarian to consult; it sounds to me as though the one you talked to was not particularly helpful. If you haven't yet had a proper equine veterinarian look at your mare, you should make an appointment as soon as you possibly can. A good veterinarian will be able to confirm the diagnosis or offer a different diagnosis. Assuming that the first veterinarian's diagnosis was correct and that the problem here IS mastitis, a good veterinarian will also be able to explain mastitis to you - the condition itself, its possible causes, and which treatments are likely to be most successful in your mare's case.

Meanwhile, I can certainly give you some general information so that you'll be able to ask your veterinarian more and better questions (and insist on more and better answers)! If your mare has been diagnosed with mastitis, that means that she has an inflamed (swollen, hot, and painful) and infected (the infection causes the swelling, heat and pain) udder. But if I were you I would most definitely want a second opinion from a good, competent equine veterinarian, because it's relatively unusual for a mare with mastitis to have ALL of her udder inflamed. Usually it's one side or the other that is infected and painful - not both sides at once unless the condition has existed for some time. It would be more typical - especially in the early stages - to see just ONE part of the mare's udder hard, hot, and inflamed. But in an advanced case, it's possible that the entire udder would be involved, and it wouldn't be surprising to find edema (swelling) in various nearby areas - either in front of the udder or inside the hind legs as you've described.

There are any number of possible causes for mastitis - it often affects mares that are lactating, most often just after - or a month or more after - their foals are weaned. Mastitis can be caused by a kick to the udder, severe insect bites, or even common bacteria, especially the sort of bacteria found in really dirty bedding.

If your mare is lactating, you can milk her a little and observe the appearance of the milk. A healthy udder will usually produced very ordinary-looking milk, whilst an infected udder (or an infected portion of a mare's udder) will produce milk that doesn't appear normal - it may be thick and lumpy, or thin with occasional lumps, but it will not be the same as the milk from the uninfected part of the udder.

The problem with mastitis is that not only is it painful for the mare in the short term, it can be quite health-threatening and dangerous in the longer term. Mastitis left untreated can result in damaged tissue inside the udder, a serious infection, scar tissue buildup or even ulceration - and the eventual result can be a permanently damaged, nonfunctional udder, which is bad if you intend for her to have and nurse more foals. Actually, a really whacking great case of mastitis, left untreated, could eventually kill the mare. I don't want to frighten you, but truly, this isn't a trivial problem.

Whatever the cause of the infection, your mare needs treatment! A good equine veterinarian will be able to select the most appropriate antibiotic, based on testing the mare's milk or even the udder tissue itself. You may not be able to administer the antibiotics yourself - obviously you could if they're to be given orally, but if they're to be given in some other way, then the vet may need to do this - but there are several different ways of administering meds, and a good vet will use the most appropriate method. In the meantime, you can help your mare by milking the swollen, painful side (or sides!) of the udder. Removing the affected milk will make her more comfortable and help to clean the udder from the inside. Your vet can show you how to do this, and can also show you how to use hot packs to help soften the udder and ease your mare's discomfort and the milking process.

The good news is that if you can find a good vet and get your mare some help as soon as possible, it may not take more than a week or so to clear up the problem.

Ask your vet which antibiotic(s) he intends to use, and why, and how often, and for how long. Ask him how, exactly, the medicines will be administered, and whether you will be able to adminster them yourself, and whether he will show you what you need to do.

Ask your vet what you can do to ease your mare's pain and help clear the infected milk from her udder - and if you don't know how to milk a mare, or don't feel comfortable doing that, ask him to show you and then watch you do it and explain again if you need more guidance.

Ask him about hot packs - how to make them, how to apply them, and exactly how hot they should be. You want your mare to have the benefit of the heat, but you don't want to scald an udder that's already inflamed and painful.

You didn't mention whether your mare is nursing a foal, but if she is, there are likely to be two problems: First, the foal may not want to drink from the inflamed side of the udder, and therefore may not get enough milk. Second, the mare may experience so much pain when the foal butts her udder that she may react by kicking and injuring the foal. Your vet should be able to give you advice about this, too, based on the mare's condition AND on the foal's age and size and condition.

If she isn't nursing a foal and even if she hasn't HAD a foal, she can still have mastitis - which brings us back to getting a good vet in to see her and prescribe medicines and help you help your mare.

Even if you can get your mare's mastitis cleared up in record time, you'll still have to pay close attention if she does have a foal (or another foal) someday, because that's when you'll discover whether she can still lactate on the affected side. If there's been permanent damage to her udder, you'll want to be aware of the possibility and fully prepared so that you won't be running around frantically searching for mare's milk substitute or a nurse mare whilst you worry about your mare's hungry new foal.

I wish I could offer more help, but this situation definitely calls for an actual veterinarian, and not just ANY veterinarian but a really good equine veterinarian!

Please let me know the outcome of all this. I'll be thinking about you and your little mare.


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