False pregnancy in dogs is a medical condition you should know about.
Sometimes your female dog may show signs of pregnancy, even though she’s not!
Why does this happen? And how can you help your dog get through it in a safe and healthy way?
In this complete guide to false pregnancy in dogs, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
What Is False Pregnancy in Dogs?
False pregnancies happen in many species, including humans.
So can female dogs show symptoms of a false pregnancy? The answer is yes.
Scientists believe that false pregnancies had an evolutionary function in canines, allowing primitive she-wolves to nurse the offspring of other females.
False pregnancy in dogs can occur 6 to 12 weeks after estrus, which refers to the period of time when a female dog is in “heat, or receptive to mating.
Sometimes also referred to as canine pseudopregnancy, canine pseudocyesis, or nervous lactation.
However, these terms are not completely interchangeable and are often used incorrectly since the differences are subtle.
They do, however, refer to different hormonal imbalances causing similar symptoms.
Medically, pseudopregnancy is characterized by high progesterone levels causing mammary gland development and weight gain, but no other symptoms.
In a false pregnancy, your dog may show signs of pregnancy, yet doesn’t produce puppies.
But why does this happen?
What Causes False Pregnancy in Dogs?
False pregnancy in dogs is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance.
The exact cause is not completely understood, however, scientists believe this occurs when prolactin concentrations become higher than normal.
Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates lactation.
Prolactinemia (high prolactin levels) is associated with microadenomas, benign tumors of the pituitary gland, or stimulation from surrogate neonates (substitute infants) and other sources.
And female dogs with a sensitivity to prolactin are more prone to overt signs of false pregnancy.
False pregnancy may also be caused by exposure to and subsequent withdrawal from progesterone, the hormone that regulates ovulation and menstruation.
Anecdotal evidence described in scientific literature suggests false pregnancies may be influenced by the environment, age, and breed.
As well as the amount of times a dog has given birth. And scientists believe there may also be a link to nutrition.
So now that we know a bit about why false pregnancy in dogs occur, let’s take a look at the symptoms.
Symptoms of False Pregnancy in Dogs
The first signs of false pregnancy in dogs include:
- decreased activity
- nesting behavior
Your dog may also lick her abdomen and start acting motherly towards inanimate objects.
Later signs include:
- mammary enlargement
- milk secretion
- let down
Weight gain is also common, and even contractions such as the those seen during the birthing process.
Sometimes, physical signs may appear before behavioral ones. And vomiting and diarrhea have also been known to happen.
Complications of False Pregnancy in Dogs
Occasional complications may arise but are less common.
- mammary dermatitis
Less common symptoms include:
- abdominal enlargement
- abdominal contractions
- excessive urination
- increased thirst
- excessive hunger
The intensity of symptoms will vary with each dog and can change from cycle to cycle.
But how can you tell the difference between a fake pregnancy in dogs and a real one?
False Pregnancy vs Real Pregnancy
How do you know if it’s a fake pregnancy or if your dog is actually pregnant?
False pregnancy symptoms look less like real pregnancy symptoms.
And are more like symptoms you would see during the peripartum or postpartum periods (the few weeks before or after childbirth).
This is because lactation (production of milk) is involved, which doesn’t happen during the normal pregnancy phase.
So how do you treat false pregnancy if your dog is experiencing it?
False Pregnancy Treatment for Dogs
False pregnancy is a self-limiting state, so mild cases often require no treatment at all.
However, if your dog is showing maternal behavior, you may wish to simply discourage her. It’s best to remove any puppy-substitute items in her reach.
If your dog is licking her mammary glands, an Elizabethan collar can be used to stop this.
Otherwise, this can stimulate more milk production.
Removing your dog’s water overnight may help preserve her fluid reserves. However, it’s best to do so only under the instruction of a vet.
If you think your dog may be suffering severe symptoms, or experiences repeated false pregnancies, it’s best to speak to a vet!
What Your Vet Can Do
Repeated episodes of false pregnancy have been linked to the development of mammary tumors.
Your dog’s vet can also rule out other potential issues, prescribe medication, or advise you on changes you can make to assist make your dog more comfortable during this time.
The vet may order certain biochemical tests, including a urine analysis, to check for other conditions.
If the tests come back normal, it may indicate a false pregnancy.
When symptoms of a false pregnancy do occur, an actual pregnancy should also be considered.
Your dog’s vet may perform an ultrasound, x-ray, or use other methods to be sure.
These tests can also rule out conditions such as a recent pregnancy or uterine infection.
Prolactin-suppressing drugs (such as dopamine agonists) can be used to reduce prolactin and false pregnancy symptoms.
Common dopamine agonists may be used to treat pseudopregnancy in dogs including:
All of which decrease milk production.
Bromocriptine is also sometimes used in combination with misoprostol to terminate pregnancies.
It may have some side effects, including upset stomach, so you may want to ask your vet about these.
Cabergoline is known to have only mild side effects and longer-lasting results.
Not all these drugs can be purchased for dogs in the US, except as extra-label medications.
It’s best to check with your dog’s vet about availability and proper dosage.
Hormone therapy has occasionally been used to treat female dogs, but the side effects can outweigh the benefits.
Hormones include estrogens, progestins, and androgens like testosterone.
Your dog’s vet may also suggest giving your dog diuretics and mild sedatives to speed up her recovery.
Prevention of False Pregnancy in Dogs
The most permanent measure for preventing false pregnancy in your dog is ovariectomy or spaying.
Spaying your female dog prevents her from going into heat, and also makes it impossible for her to experience a false pregnancy.
Can A Spayed Dog Have A False Pregnancy?
If your dog is spayed during diestrus, the last stage of estrus, she may experience pseudopregnancy 2 to 7 days after surgery.
If your dog is spayed while she is lactating, she may experience an extended false pregnancy.
However, in general, spaying is the only sure preventative method for false pregnancy.
How Common is False Pregnancy in Dogs?
This condition is considered normal and relatively common.
False pregnancies have not been associated with any reproductive issues, like infertility.
In fact, it indicates that ovulation has occurred one cycle ago, which means your female dog is fertile.
It’s not known why some dogs develop symptoms, and why the severity of symptoms varies from cycle to cycle.
Scientists don’t know exactly how often false pregnancies happen or how distributed they are among different breeds.
However, some researchers believe dogs with shorter luteal phases in their cycle may be at higher risk of false pregnancies.
The luteal phase is when progesterone levels peak and usually takes place between days 15 to 25 of a dog’s cycle.
Broadly speaking, false pregnancies may occur in 50 to 75 percent of unspayed female dogs.
False Pregnancy in Dogs
If you think your dog may be suffering from a false pregnancy, don’t panic!
Taking some minor actions can help make her more comfortable and symptoms will usually subside on their own without treatment.
If your dog experiences severe symptoms or multiple episodes, it’s best to speak to a vet.
The only sure way to prevent a false pregnancy is by getting your dog spayed.
Has your female dog experienced a false pregnancy? What did you do? Please share your experience in the comments.
References and Further Reading
Ajitkumar G and Praseeda R. 2010. Induction of fertile oestrus in dogs using cabergoline. Vetscan.
Gobello C et al. 2001. A review of canine pseudocyesis. Reproduction in Domestic Animals.
Gobello C et al 2001. Study of the change of prolactin and progesterone during dopaminergic agonist treatments in pseudopregnant bitches. Animal Preproduction Science.
Gobello C et al. 2001. Dioestrus ovariectomy: a model to study the onset of canine pseudopregnancy. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility.
Janssens LA. 1986. Treatment of pseudopregnancy with bromocriptine, an ergot alkaloid, Veterinary Record.
Razzaque WAA et al. 2008. False pregnancy in bitch. Veterinary World.