False Pregnancy in Female Dogs

False pregnancy is when a female dog starts showing the symptoms of pregnancy, including lactation and nursing pups, when she is not pregnant.  This usually happens about two months after the dog comes into heat and can last as long as a month.  It is thought that a hormonal imbalance causes false pregnancy.

The symptoms of false pregnancy are a lot like pregnancy.  The dog shows behavioral changes including showing signs of mothering activity, nesting, and self-nursing.  She may take a toy and treat it like a puppy, carrying it around and tending to it all day.  She may show restlessness, have abdominal distention and enlargement of the mammary glands, vomit, show depression and loss of appetite, and have a brownish or watery secretion from the mammary glands.  She may self-nurse, which increases the secretion from the mammary glands.

No one knows what causes this condition.  However, hormonal imbalances, especially of progesterone and prolactin, are thought to play some role.  Some female dogs start showing symptoms of false pregnancy a few days after being spayed.  This, however, is unusual.  Most spayed dogs do not display symptoms of false pregnancy.

To diagnosis this condition, the veterinarian will take a thorough history of your dog, when the behavior started, and any exposure to a male dog.  He will also do routine blood work and a urinalysis.  He may do an x-ray or ultrasound to make sure the dog does not have an infected ovary and is or is not pregnant.  The blood work, urinalysis,  and x-ray will usually come back completely normal, unless the dog has some other illness that has not been diagnosed previously.

Unless symptoms persist over a month, treatment is typically not necessary.  The dog may latch onto a toy and treat that toy as a puppy for a period of time.  This is normal and you should allow access to the toy until the dog ignores it again.

If the behavior persists, the veterinarian may recommend hormonal therapy or spaying the dog.

If your dog is showing mammary gland secretions, you should use cold or warm packs to minimize the stimulation that promotes lactation.  If will also ease the dog’s feeling of being full of milk.  An Elizabethan collar, or cone, may be necessary to prevent the self-nursing behavior that can stimulate lactation.  Temporarily reducing the amount of food you give your dog may stop lactation.

Once dogs start having false pregnancies, they usually continue to have them after every heat.  This can be problematic for the rest of the dog’s life.  If you do not plan on breeding your dog, spaying her will usually prevent further episodes.  Even without treatment, however, most dogs recover within two to three weeks and go back to normal.  They stop lactating, begin to ignore the toy they are treating like a puppy, stop nesting behavior, and go back to just being a dog.