Bacterial Infection or Fluid Filled Cysts of the Lactating Glands in Rabbits

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 15, 2010

Cystic and Septic Mastitis in Rabbits

Septic mastitis refers to an infection of the lactating glands, the glands that make milk after a mammal has given birth. This infection occurs when there is a spread of bacterial to the lactating glands. If left untreated, the bacteria may spread to the blood and lymph glands, affecting the whole body and leading to a potentially life-threatening condition. If the infection remains confined to the mammary glands, abscess may occur in the glands.

Cystic mastitis, which is characterized by fluid filled cysts, or fluid filled sacs that occupy the space within the tissue of the body, may also occur in one or more glands and ducts of the mammary glands (the equivalent of the human breast). The cysts are usually filled with sterile fluid. This particular condition is associated with other, similar cysts in the uterus and ovaries. If left untreated, cystic mastitis can progress to cancerous cysts in some cases. It affects female rabbits, mainly of childbearing age and status.

Symptoms and Types

Septic mastitis

  • Anorexia, lethargy, depression
  • Excess thirst and urine (polydipsia, polyuria)
  • Signs of pseudopregnancy (i.e., pulling hair, nest building, false pregnancy)
  • Illness or death in the suckling young

Cystic mastitis

  • Usually bright, alert, not in pain
  • Blood in urine (hematuria), which is often due to associated disease in the uterus
  • Fever and dehydration with systemic involvement


The physical examination will reveal tender, firm, swollen, and red mammary glands, and observable discharge (that is not milk) from the mammary glands or teats. There may also be fever and lethargy. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. These tests will confirm or rule out a systemic infection.


If the infection is severe, chronic, or recurring, surgical removal of mammary glands and ovaries and uterus may need to be performed for the overall health of your rabbit. If the infection is being treated in an early stage, and is not considered severe, antibiotics that are specific to the bacteria that is present will be administered with caution.

Living and Management

At home, you will need to maintain a clean environment to prevent reinfections. If your rabbit has been diagnosed with cystic mastitis, and the condition is recurring or chronic, removal of the mammary glands is advisable, since cystic mastitis may progress to cancer.

There are complications that can occur, and will need to be watched for. Abscess formation can cause loss of the mammary gland(s), death to the adult rabbit, or death of the suckling newborns.

Progress and recovery depends on the severity and extent of the mastitis.

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