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False Pregnancy

Lately more and more owners of female dogs ask about their dog’s strange behavior at the time of their 2nd to 8th week after heat. The dog becomes restless, she digs a lot, listens less, whines more, her mammary gland may swell and she can even generate secretion similar to milk. The dog may act as if she will be giving birth soon and creates an imaginary bed even though she is not expecting and has not been in contact with a male dog. She may treat her toys as if they were her puppies, care for them, not leave her bed and eat less or more than usual. A female dog may only have some of these symptoms or she may just simply act odd. No matter how your dog demonstrates her odd behavior, the answer is false pregnancy.

What is false pregnancy?

False pregnancy - pseudocyesis - is a frequent problem amongst female dogs. Remember though, it’s not an illness. False pregnancy occurs at around the 2nd to 8th week after heat but a female dog doesn’t have to experience this after every heat.

False pregnancy is (amongst other things) caused by the hormone prolactin, which supports milk production – lactation - in mammals. Pregnant dogs and dogs experiencing false pregnancy have the same level of prolactin in their blood – that’s why they show similar behavior patterns.

Even though false pregnancy is more frequent in overweight dogs or in dogs that move less, it’s not the fault of the owner or the dog. It’s a natural thing that some people describe as a disorder or even as a hysterical behavior of the dog. Other people consider false pregnancy as a natural and targeted behavior in the wild. False pregnancy played an important role in packs of wolves.

Typical symptoms (only some may be present)

- her breasts are filled and large; a secretion similar to milk may flow

-she is moody and wants to cuddle

- she licks herself more; her genitals become swollen

- she digs a lot and prepares a „nest“ for her little ones

- she may act as if she was giving birth

-  she cares for her toys as if they were puppies

- she drinks a lot and eats more or less than usual; she changes her eating habits

- she stops listening; whines more

- other symptoms that differ from the dogs normal behavior may be present


The risks of false pregnancy

The problems during a false pregnancy are caused by milk production. Some dogs don’t produce milk at all, but others do and you should be careful that their mammary gland doesn’t get inflamed. Don’t pump out the milk – it would only lead to more production. However we should always watch the breasts and milk and if we see any symptoms of inflammation (fever, redness or hardening), we should visit our veterinarian as soon as possible. Some people recommend putting vinegar water on your dog’s breasts, but even this could cause increased milk production. Therefore I let my dog be, but I watch for any symptoms previously mentioned. If your dog’s breasts become hot - which indicates inflammation – its good to put a wrap made of cottage cheese on her breasts. Cottage cheese will decrease the temperature and your dog will feel better. But even so, a veterinarian should check her. Another danger that could occur during false pregnancy is inflammation in the genitals, so it’s important to look out for possible discharge from the vulva or for any odor. If you’re not sure, check with your veterinarian.


How to avoid a lengthy false pregnancy

If your dog is left alone, false pregnancy may go away on its own within a week or two weeks. For some dogs it could take much longer, but that doesn’t happen often. If it happens to your dog, it’s good to do the following so that her false pregnancy doesn’t take an unnecessarily long time:

- go for long walks and intensively entertain your dog

- take away all her toys that she considers to be puppies

- if your dog tends stay in her bed, its good to take it away, especially if it’s a covered bed

- lower her food intake, especially protein, for about ten days

- the decrease of water intake decreases the chances for inflammation of the mammary gland – if your dog has too much milk, it’s recommended to not allow her water during the night (about 7-8 hours) for about 3-7 days – DON’T FORGET to give your dog water during the day!

-you can give your dog homeopathics  (see literature)

In some rare extreme cases, false pregnancy can last up to several months. If this happens,  you should let your dog be treated or you can consider castration.

These extreme situations aren’t very common. However if your dog’s false pregnancy is really difficult, if it lasts most months in a year, if your dog produces a lot of milk, if she suffers from inflammations, if it effects your and your dogs daily life a lot, you really should think about castration. But remember that false pregnancy usually occurs without problems and is not dangerous. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend castration only to avoid false pregnancy in general. As mentioned earlier, it’s a natural occurrence, so don’t castrate your dog just because she experiences false pregnancy once in a while. That solution should only be for extreme cases and only after medication or homepathics failed to work.