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Overview of Mastitis in Large Animals

By Ronald J. Erskine, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University

Mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary gland, is predominantly due to the effects of infection by bacterial pathogens, although mycotic or algal microbes play a role in some cases. Pathologic changes to milk-secreting epithelial cells from the inflammatory process often bring about a decrease in functional capacity. Depending on the pathogen, functional losses may continue into further lactations, which may reduce productivity and potential weight gain for suckling offspring. Although most infections result in relatively mild clinical or subclinical local inflammation, more severe cases can lead to agalactia or even profound systemic involvement, resulting in death. Mastitis has been reported in almost all domestic mammals and has a worldwide geographic distribution. Climatic conditions, seasonal variation, bedding, housing density of livestock populations, and husbandry practices may affect the incidence and etiology. However, it is of greatest frequency and economic importance in species that primarily function as producers of milk for dairy products, particularly dairy cattle. (Also see Udder Diseases.)

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