Dog Training and Dog Care advice from UK Professionals

False Pregnancy in Dogs

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(Also known as Pseudopregnancy, Pseudocyesis)

Pregnant DogMany female dogs commonly display physical and behavioural signs which are consistent with pregnancy. The signs are a swollen abdomen, milk being produced by the mammary glands, and changes in behaviour.

Often many of the signs go unnoticed. The bitch may start carrying toys or other objects to a hidden 'nest' she may have built behind a chair or similar object.

The bitch may also be restless and irritable, and easily-angered. False pregnancies are due to hormonal imbalances and ovarian abnormalities. The situation can resolve itself without veterinary treatment but recurrence is common in subsequent 'heat' cycles.

Medication can be used but unless the bitch is going to be used for breeding, many owners decide that the false pregnancy justifies having her spayed. However this should not be carried out whilst the bitch is having a false pregnancy as though it will remove the uterus and ovaries, it does not end the production of prolactin from the pituitary gland. Spaying at this stage may prolong the false pregnancy; it is advised to wait until it has passed.

Most female dogs have an estrus cycle, (coming into heat) every six to eight months. It is characterised by a swollen vulva, vaginal discharge, and male dogs are suddenly queued at your front door!

There are three stages to the cycle. The first is called the proestrus, and has all the symptoms mentioned. The second is the estrus, which is characterised by the discharge changing colour from bloody to a yellowy, straw colour. At this point the female will allow a male dog to mount her. Ovulation occurs and the female is at her most fertile. The third stage is the diestrus. The female produces pregnancy hormones, whether she is pregnant or not. If the bitch really is pregnant, then other hormones will be produced by the 'corpus luteum' a structure within the ovaries. If she is not pregnant then the hormones will cease. It takes approximately 70 days for the hormones to cease, during which time the bitch will think she is pregnant.

If the bitch is only showing mild symptoms, treatment is not necessary, as the condition will resolve itself in a few weeks. However sometimes the bitch has an aggressive false pregnancy, and becomes quite distressed. As well as the nesting instinct, she may keep licking her teats to stimulate milk production. It is important to prevent her from doing this so ask the vet for an Elizabethan collar, which will stop her reaching her teats.

Hormonal medication may be prescribed for severe cases. The medication will inhibit the production of prolactin but as with any medicine it does sometimes cause an upset stomach. Before prescribing any medication the vet will make sure that the bitch is not pregnant.

It is advisable to try and stop the bitch 'nesting' and carrying a surrogate puppy around, as this is thought to exacerbate the problem. Some owners believe that by stopping the bitch drinking so much water will stop her producing milk. NEVER restrict the dog’s water as this is potentially dangerous, and can cause death.

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