False Pregnancy in Dogs
False pregnancy, or pseudopregnancy, is a term used to describe a condition where a non-pregnant female dog is showing symptoms of pregnancy. Although the cause of this condition is unknown, it is believed that false pregnancy happens because of dog’s hormonal imbalance. Every time a female dog ovulates, her progesterone levels rise and stay elevated. Hormon progesterone regulates ovulation and menstruation. After that, when the progesterone levels begin to fall, levels of hormone prolactin start to rise. Prolactin stimulates milk production. These hormonal fluctuations can make your dog’s body think that there are puppies on a way. The environment, nutrition and the age and the breed of a dog can also have influence on developing pseudopregnancy.
FUN FACT: Although false pregnancy can happen at any age and in any breed, Dalmatians, Basset Hounds, Pointers, Afghan hounds, Beagles, and Dachshunds seem to be more likely to experience false pregnancy.
False pregnancy in dogs - behavior
During a false pregnancy, female dog will behave differently. Symptoms of a false pregnancy are: secretion from mammary glands, swollen belly, lethargy, fluctuations in appetite, excessive vocalization, whining, depression, anxiety, and restlessness. Also, a dog may experience nausea and vomiting. Often a dog will start “nesting”. She will dig around the house and during your walks, searching for a perfect spot to have her puppies. Also, she will start gathering and “adopting” stuffed animals or other objects around the house, to nurture them. Dog’s nipples will enlarge and she will start producing milk. In short, a female dog has all the symptoms of a real pregnancy, just without the puppies. Usually, when a female dog has experienced her first false pregnancy, she will probably experience these pregnancies repeatedly after heat cycles. False pregnancies usually happen 6-12 weeks after the dog was in heat (estrus) and the condition usually lasts 14-21 days (sometimes longer, depending on the severity of the problem).
Most false pregnancies don’t need any treatment and will end themselves. You can help your dog by discouraging her maternal behavior. Don’t let her “nest” and nurture her toys. Comfort your dog to reduce anxiety or aggression. Also, stop your dog from licking her mammary glands (you can use an Elizabethan collar or a shirt). Licking and touching mammary glands stimulate more milk production and, if milk production is not stopped, the condition will probably last longer. Additionally, mammary glands can get inflamed or infected. Frequent pseudopregnancies can also increase your dog’s chances of developing pyometra (a bacterial infection of the uterus that can be life-threatening), and tumors in her mammary glands. If the symptoms last longer than a month, take your dog to the vet. Your vet might prescribe Cabergoline. This medication reduces prolactin and stops milk production.
FUN FACT: Scientists believe that these false pregnancies in dogs have an evolutionary function – to allow primitive she-wolves to nurse the offspring of other females in the pack or for an adult females without puppies to nurse orphaned litters.
False pregnancy in dogs and spaying
It is believed that approximately 50% of unspayed dogs develop a pseudopregnancy during their lifetime. Once your dog had a false pregnancy, it is almost certain that it will happen again to her. The only way to stop false pregnancies from happening is by getting your dog spayed.
FUN FACT: Some dogs show signs of false pregnancy within three to four days after being spayed. Popular opinion is that this happens because spaying removes the ovaries (the source of the progesterone), which triggers prolactin production as well.
To determine whether your dog is really pregnant or just experiencing a false pregnancy, do a radiograph (X-ray) of the dog's abdomen. X-rays can confirm pregnancy after 45 days.