The sight of a mother cat nursing her kittens may be endearing to you, but to her, it may be a painful ordeal. There are a variety of ailments a lactating cat can experience, ranging from reduced milk flow to cuts and scratches on her nipples. Kittens tend to nurse from a specific teat, so it's important to keep the mother cat's nursing equipment in good condition.
Like all nursing mothers, a cat is prone to the painful condition known as mastitis, the retention of free-flowing milk in the breast, turning it into a cottage cheese-like substance. Mastitis is caused if the cat's producing more milk than her kittens drink or when a deformity in her teat doesn't allow the milk to flow. Signs of mastitis include red, swollen teats that appear bruised and teats that are overly hot to the touch. A trained hand can manually manipulate the infection out of the nipple, however this procedure should be performed by someone experienced, such as your vet. Hot compresses on the affected area offer relief and antibiotics are usually necessary to clear the infection.
When kittens nurse, they knead their mother's belly to help stimulate milk production. Their razor sharp nails may scratch their mothers' teat, sometimes causing tearing and bleeding of this sensitive tissue. Standard first aid methods for wound-cleaning will work for a mother cat injured in the line of duty; hydrogen peroxide and a nontoxic antibiotic cream are safe and effective healing agents. Trimming kittens' nails weekly reduces the chance of nail scratches.
As nails can scratch, teeth can puncture, damaging a mother cat's nipples. By the fourth week of life, kittens sport tiny, needle-like teeth that can easily pierce her flesh. A daily inspection will reveal any cuts that need tending with hydrogen peroxide and nontoxic antibiotic cream. When the kittens have developed teeth, it's time to introduce them to soft foods in an effort to begin the weaning process.
Cats are known for their rough, sandpaper-like tongues, and kittens are no exception. A mother cat's nipples can get roughened up from her nursing brood, as they use their rough tongues to lick and eat. Your vet can recommend a safe, soothing ointment to help the mother cat without discouraging her brood from nursing.