How to Tell if a Female Dog Is Having a False Pregnancy

A dog who is experiencing a false pregnancy will exhibit any of numerous telltale signs, both physical and behavioral. Many symptoms usually appear one to two months after heat. The condition is common in female dogs who haven't been spayed.

Lulu, a Bichon Maltaise
Dogs with false pregnancies sometimes seem less keen on physical activity than normal.
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False Pregnancy Basics

If a nonpregnant female canine displays indications of pregnancy but isn't carrying puppies, she's having a false pregnancy. This condition can appear both in dogs who have mated and those who have not. Symptoms of false pregnancies, including that of false nursing, can sometimes endure for more than a month.

False pregnancies are thought to be triggered by hormonal imbalances. Other common names for false pregnancy are pseudopregnancy and phantom pregnancy. Although false pregnancies are prevalent in dogs, they're uncommon in cats.

Identifying a False Pregnancy

You might be able to identify a false pregnancy in your pet by observing her for symptoms. Common symptoms include a swollen abdomen, maternal behavior, nesting, digging, increased mammary gland size with or without the presence of milk, loss of energy, increase or decrease in appetite, nonexistent appetite, inordinate vocalization, fluid retention, watery mammary gland emissions, aggressive behavior, depression and vomiting. Dogs with false pregnancies often have lower appetites while maintaining stable weights as a result of fluid retention.

Dogs who have phantom pregnancies often seem unusually restless and unable to sit still. If your usually calm dog seems strangely restive, false pregnancy could be to blame. If your dog seems uninterested in activities she previously enjoyed, that could also signify the depression of a false pregnancy. Dogs with phantom pregnancies often experience conspicuous distention of the lower stomach that looks similar to the abdominal expansion of true pregnancy.

If you notice your dog behaving in a maternal manner toward random items in her surroundings, that's a classic sign of false pregnancy. If you spot her licking her own mammary glands, then she's engaging in self-nursing, another telling sign of this condition. If your dog is trying to create a nest out of bedding or ripped pieces of paper, it's because she thinks she's preparing for the arrival of a litter.

Veterinary Evaluation

If you detect signs of false pregnancy in your dog, visit the veterinarian as soon as possible. Signs of medical conditions such as pyometra, mammary gland cancer, mammary gland inflammation and mastitis are often close to those of false pregnancies. Since these conditions can be serious, veterinary attention is absolutely essential.

Vets diagnose false pregnancies in dogs by conducting physical examinations, blood work, ultrasounds and X-rays. Examples of blood work include complete blood counts and urinalysis tests. Ultrasounds and X-rays can verify or deny pregnancies in dogs. They also can indicate whether a dog is suffering from pyometra, an urgent and potentially fatal uterine infection.

False Pregnancy Prevention and Management

Signs of false pregnancy in dogs typically fade away without veterinary treatment within two to three weeks. Treatment for this condition typically isn't required because of this. If you wish to stop false pregnancy from happening in your dog again at a later time, spaying is an effective option. Spaying is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries. You can schedule a spaying appointment for your dog once the symptoms have gone away entirely and she's out of heat.

If your dog seems physically sick or is displaying extreme behavioral shifts, however, your veterinarian might recommend treatment to manage the symptoms false pregnancy is causing. Treatment options include diuretics, tranquilization and hormone therapy. Diuretics function to decrease milk manufacture or fluid retention. Tranquilization aims to minimize anxiety.