Nesting, mothering toys, producing milk, and even morning sickness - but no pitter patter of puppy feet
False pregnancy is a common problem for entire females
It occurs 4 to 8 weeks after their season
It is caused by hormone fluctuations
Not all dogs need treatment, but medication can help those with severe symptoms
Spaying your dog will prevent the problem happening in the future - but can only be done when the false pregnancy is over.
What is a false pregnancy?
A false pregnancy (also called a phantom pregnancy or pseudo-pregnancy) is a condition frequently seen in entire female dogs. The dog goes through behavioural and physical changes typical of a pregnancy, while not being pregnant.
Commonly seen signs include:
Mammary gland enlargement and secretions (clear, brownish or milk)
Changes in behaviour, irritability
Changes in appetite
What dogs are affected?
It is only seen in entire (unspeyed) females that are not pregnant, whether or not they have been mated.
It can happen at any age, and might not be present after every heat cycle.
The symptoms usually occur around 6-8 weeks after oestrus (the “season”), due to an hormone called prolactin. Prolactin is produced when levels of another hormone, progesterone, start to drop.
Why does it happen?
During every oestrus cycle the dog’s body goes through some changes to prepare for a possible pregnancy, regardless of whether she was mated or not. It’s thought that this is because in the wild all the female dogs would work together to rear the pups, and these hormone changes made them feel motherly toward any pup even if it is not their own.
How is it diagnosed?
A false pregnancy is usually diagnosed based on the clinical signs.
If there is a chance your dog might have been mated, your vet might advise an ultrasound exam to check it isn’t a true pregnancy. Your vet may also recommend further tests if your dog is generally unwell.
How is it treated?
Treatment is not always required as the symptoms usually improve on their own in 1 to 4 weeks. You can also help your dog by feeding her a low carbohydrate diet, removing her toys, and making sure she gets lots of exercise.
In certain cases, particularly if the false pregnancy lasts for a long time or if your dog has severe symptoms, your vet might prescribe a specific medication that prevents the action of the hormone prolactin. This medication can cause abortion in pregnant dogs, so your vet will want to be sure this is not the case first.
Can it be prevented?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict whether your dog will develop a false pregnancy again.
If you are not planning to breed from your dog, getting her spayed will prevent the problem
Don’t forget, if you have any more questions about false pregnancy in dogs, you can book a consultation with the friendly vets at MyDogDoc!