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Phantom Pregnancy In Dogs: Signs And Symptoms

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Having A False Pregnancy & What To Do To Help Them Through It

Is your female dog experiencing behavioral changes like restlessness and nesting? Or does she “mother” toys, moving them around before hiding them in her nest? If any of this sounds familiar you may be dealing with a false pregnancy in dogs. 

This condition is also referred to as phantom pregnancy, pseudopregnancy, or pseudocyesis. False pregnancies are extremely common in unspayed female dogs, tricking both the owner and the dog that a litter of cute puppies is on the way.

Read on to learn about the signs and symptoms of phantom pregnancy in dogs and how to help your pooch through this condition. 

What Is A Phantom Pregnancy And Can Dogs Have It?

Pseudopregnancy in dogs is a commonly seen condition in unspayed female dogs. This condition mimics the physical and behavioral signs of pregnancy even if your dog hasn’t been mated.

The first signs and symptoms of phantom pregnancy in dogs usually become apparent four to nine weeks after the female dog was in heat. 

In fact, some vets believe that some phantom pregnancy dog symptoms are to be expected in most unspayed female dogs after each heat cycle. However, most of these dog phantom pregnancy signs are too mild to cause any concern to the owner or discomfort to the dog. 

Research has shown that around half of all unspayed female dogs will exhibit dog phantom pregnancy symptoms in their lifetime unless spayed. And after your dog has had a phantom pregnancy once, she will likely experience others in the future. 

After a female dog has an estrus cycle, her ovaries start to produce hormones, regardless of whether she is pregnant or not. These hormones are mainly produced to prepare the uterus for the fetuses and to support the pregnancy.

When a dog is pregnant, these hormones will continue to be produced throughout the pregnancy. However, if a dog isn’t pregnant the levels of these hormones will start to drop after four to six weeks. 

In the early stages, these increased levels of hormones cause changes that mimic symptoms of pregnancy in non-pregnant dogs. As the levels of these hormones drop, they stimulate the development of mammillary glands and send signals to the body to go into false labor. 

While all unspayed female dogs can experience these hormonal changes, it’s still unclear why these changes happen to non-pregnant dogs. 

Phantom Pregnancy In Dogs: Signs And Symptoms

Both the physical symptoms and dog phantom pregnancy behaviour are seen in dogs with this condition. Basically, dogs with false pregnancies will exhibit all signs of true pregnancy without giving birth to a litter of puppies. 

Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition expect to see the following false pregnancy dog symptoms:

  • Nesting
  • Lethargy
  • Mothering activity (guarding small objects or toys)
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen belly
  • Tender or swollen mammillary glands 
  • Brownish or watery secretion from mammillary glands 

In some cases, false pregnancy in dogs can cause contractions and false labor. 

Some signs and symptoms of phantom pregnancy in dogs are similar to those seen in other conditions. So, take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice a change in their behavior! 

Dog False Pregnancy How Long Does It Last?

If this is the first brush up with this condition you are probably wondering how long does dog false pregnancy last? The good news is that all the signs and symptoms of false pregnancy in dogs’ resolve within two to three weeks without any treatment. 

Phantom pregnancy for dogs is the result of normal hormonal changes that happen during the heat cycle. Therefore, your pooch should be back to her usual self within a few weeks as her hormones cycle again.

In mild cases, canine pseudopregnancy doesn’t require any treatment since the symptoms will pass on their own. However, if your dog is experiencing severe behavioral changes or appears physically ill, it will require treatment.

Can A Dog Lactate Without Being Pregnant?

To put it simply, yes, a dog can lactate without being pregnant! 

Dogs that are experiencing a false pregnancy go through all physical changes associated with pregnancy and giving birth to puppies. As their body is getting ready for whelping, their mammillary glands and nipples enlarge evenly, causing a dog to have milk but not be pregnant.

Milk production is usually the biggest cause of concern for owners and it can also be very uncomfortable for your dog. If your dog starts to lick her mammillary glands to ease discomfort, she can further stimulate milk production and cause irritation. 

In a case when your dog is lactating milk and not pregnant you should take care not to rub the area when you’re petting her and consider fitting your pooch with an E-collar. This way, she won’t be able to lick the area and stimulate milk production. 

How To Help Your Dog Through A False Pregnancy?

If your dog has a phantom pregnancy you are probably wondering what you can do to help! The good news is that, in most cases, this condition doesn’t require any treatment and passes on its own in two to three weeks.

However, your dog might feel stressed out and anxious while going through these changes, and it’s your job to help ease their discomfort.

The best thing you can do for your dog is to take her to the vet to rule out any other medical conditions. After your dog is given a clean bill of health, try to keep her comfortable.

As mentioned above, milk production is usually the most uncomfortable symptom of false pregnancy in dogs. To prevent your dog from licking and stimulating the nipples dress her in a t-shirt, or use a cone, or an inflatable collar.

Beyond that, observe your dog and try to understand how she is feeling. If she seems restless an additional walk or more exercise can soothe your pooch and make her feel more comfortable. But, if your dog seems less energetic than usual, instead of forcing exercise give her the much-needed rest and TLC. 

In some cases, your dog may steal your things and treat them as her puppies. Don’t be frustrated if your shoes and socks end up tucked in your dog’s nest! Instead, try to store your belongings out of your dog’s reach.

In mild cases, all symptoms of false pregnancy should disappear within a few weeks, so there’s nothing much you can do except be kind towards your dog and wait. 

But, if your dog has severe symptoms of pseudopregnancy, talk with your vet about treatment. Your vet may prescribe medication to ease your dog’s anxiety, as well as, diuretics to reduce milk production and water retention.

Some vets will also prescribe hormonal therapy to treat false pregnancy symptoms and hormonal imbalances. However, this is likely to happen only in serious cases when the dog is experiencing severe and prolonged symptoms of false pregnancy.

Conclusion: False Pregancy In Dogs

If you wondered how common is false pregnancy in dogs, know that around half of all female dogs will exhibit symptoms of false pregnancy at least once in their lifetime, unless they are spayed.

While pseudopregnancy isn’t dangerous for your dog’s health, it can make your dog uncomfortable and out of sorts for a few weeks at a time. Although most dogs don’t require any treatment, spaying is the best and only preventative for false pregnancies.

Besides ensuring that your dog won’t exhibit signs and symptoms of a phantom pregnancy, the spaying procedure also reduces the risk of pyometra and mammillary cancer. If you don’t plan on breeding your dog, talk with your vet about spaying and when is the best time to do it!

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My Dog Is Having A False Pregnancy: What To Do

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