False Pregnancy in Dogs Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

False pregnancy in dogs

False pregnancy in dogs is fairly common and is rarely a health concern. For owners who are not keen, the condition may come and go without them noticing. Severe cases though can never go unnoticed. The signs and symptoms of the condition are similar to those observed during a real pregnancy with the only difference being that no puppies are born. We evaluate this condition in details and discuss available treatments for phantom pregnancy in your female dog.

False Pregnancy in Dogs

Also referred to as pseudo or phantom pregnancy, false pregnancy in dogs is a condition in which no-pregnant dogs exhibit the signs of pregnancy, lactation, and nursing without there being a litter of puppies produced. These signs are known to start showing a month to two months after being on heat. The cause of false pregnancies is thought to be a hormonal imbalance.

Signs of False Pregnancy in Dogs

The signs of false pregnancy in dogs mimic those of a real pregnancy. The symptoms differ in severity and could last for a few weeks or more than a month. They are:

  • Abdominal distention
  • Mammary glands enlargement
  • Secretion of a watery or brownish fluid from the mammary glands.
  • Changes in general behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Dog not eating due to loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

In severe and prolonged cases, additional symptoms of phantom pregnancy will include the following:

Nesting Behavior

Just like dogs in real pregnancy do, one experiencing a pseudopregnancy will get to a point where they create a nest. This is in preparation for upcoming pups. This can be seen with her arranging her bedding, moving the blankets to quiet areas as well as digging into and ruffling them.

Mock Labor

This happens in most severe cases. The dog experiencing the condition will undergo labor and appear as if she is trying to give birth only that no litter results at the end of it.

Surrogate Mothering

Where the false pregnancy is prolonged, the canine adopts toys as their surrogate puppies. She collects objects and treats them as her brood keeping them with her in her bedding. She could also walk around carrying them and get anxious if they are taken away.


This is where the mammary glands of the dog get enlarged. What differentiates the swelling with that experienced due to slight hormonal changes within the cycle is the production of milk. A dog experiencing a false pregnancy will leak from one or more tits. Expressing the milk is not recommended as it will prolong the presence of the symptoms.

Although these symptoms are mostly experienced following estrus, they could occur at any age and time. The severity not only varies from one dog to another but also from one cycle to another in the same dog. In some cases, the dogs will go as far as experiencing false labor which is then followed by protective behavior which they take on by guarding small objects and toys the way they would guard their puppies.

How Long Does it Last?

The signs of false pregnancy in dogs start showing 6 to 12 weeks after the dog has been on heat. Where the symptoms are mild, they will last for only a short while and resolve within three weeks. Where the signs last for more than eight weeks, veterinarian intervention may be necessary.

Why Does False Pregnancy Occur?

After an estrus cycle, the dog’s ovaries start producing hormones whether the dog is pregnant or not. These hormones are meant to prepare the dog’s uterus in readiness for the fetuses’ reception. They are also meant to maintain the pregnancy.

In case your pooch is pregnant, the production of the hormones continues up to shortly before giving birth. In case she is not pregnant, the production of hormones declines after four to six weeks.

Due to the high levels of hormones circulating in the body, the dog experiences signs such as those of real pregnancies even when it is not. With the decreasing levels of hormones produced, the body takes this as a signal to stimulate labor and boost mammary gland development just like it does just before real birth. The result, in the end, is false labor. Why these fluctuations occur is not yet certain.

Diagnosing False Pregnancy in Dogs

Once you get your pet to the veterinarian, they may want to know a few things from you. These include:

  1. A detailed history regarding your pet’s health.
  2. When the symptoms set in and their nature.

Where necessary, the vet may give your dog a physical examination. In some situations, abdominal diagnostic imaging may be done to rule out uterine infections. The presence of other diseases that may be prolonging the symptoms such as hypothyroidism may be done too.

What to Do for Pseudo-Pregnancy in Dogs- False Pregnancy in Dogs Treatment

A dog experiencing a false pregnancy is guided by its mothering instincts. These are hard to control and although they may fade with time, they could take longer than desired. Once your dog shows signs of a phantom pregnancy, you should consult your veterinarian. In mild cases, the symptoms and signs will go away without intervention. All dogs are different though and you can never tell how long the symptoms may persist.

  1. Where your dog has added toys and is nesting, you could get the toys away from them. However, this is suspected to cause anxiety in them. Where this is the case, you could allow the dog to keep the toys but take him for walks so he can be away from them for a while. Keep increasing the distanced walked so it can diminish the dog’s urge to go back to its “babies.” This way she will eventually get normal.
  2. Where the dog is already producing milk, some drugs may be administered to stop it.
  3. If the dog keeps experiencing pseudopregnancies, you could discuss medication for them. In case your dog has not been spayed yet, having the procedure done could ease the condition.

False Pregnancy in Dogs after Spaying

A dog that has undergone spaying during a time when its progesterone levels are high experiences an unexpected drop in the same. As a result, it could experience a false pregnancy. This is because the sudden decrease in progesterone will prompt an increase in prolactin. These hormonal changes are similar to those occurring close to and during birth and could result in milk production.

Two to three days after coming home from the procedure, your pet will show signs of increased aggression and nesting behavior. These may continue for two to three days after which she will start getting back to being herself.

The resulting pseudo pregnancy symptoms exhibited after spaying do not usually persist longer than a week. Try to walk your dog so she can be distracted if the behavior concerns you.

False pregnancy in dogs should not cause you anxiety. Report to your veterinarian and keep watching your dog see if the symptoms fade. Contact the vet in case of any concern for further advice.

Sources and References

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