So you go to give your dog the daily belly rub she loves and discover wetness on her tummy. You inspect the cause and discover that your dog is lactating. Though secreting milk is typically a sign of a pregnancy, this is, surprisingly to most people, not always the case. Lactation can also be a sign of false pregnancy or even more serious health concerns. If you know for sure that your girl isn't pregnant, it's best to get her checked out by the vet.
The most obvious reason your canine companion might be secreting milk is that she's pregnant. Most dogs don't lactate until their pups are born or a few days prior, but some can secrete a little milk a month or two before the puppies arrive. It isn't cause for concern unless a high volume of milk lasts for several days. Without pups to drink the milk, your dog can be in pain from the built-up pressure and can develop a mastitis infection. Check with your vet if lactation occurs well before the puppies are due.
Sometimes a dog's body may trick itself into thinking it's pregnant when it's not. Caused by a hormonal imbalance that falls between six and 12 weeks after the end of her heat cycle, a false pregnancy might cause her to become moody, restless or protective of her favorite toys -- mothering them, in a way. Her belly might look swollen or distended, and she can leak milk out of her nipples. The hormones causing the false pregnancy usually fix themselves in about three weeks, but watch your pooch for signs of pain from the leaking milk. The pressure buildup can be painful, and she's at risk for mastitis just like a pregnant dog.
Some health issues can cause your dog to secrete milk -- although it's sometimes white pus instead of milk. Mammary gland cancers or infections can cause white pus to leak, and these conditions need immediate attention from your vet. Hypothyroidism can cause your furry friend's hormones to go crazy, leading to lactation. If this occurs when a false pregnancy is highly unlikely -- such as six months after her heat cycle ends or after she's been spayed and no longer has a heat cycle -- ask your vet for a full blood workup to check for thyroid issues.
Preventing and Stopping the Milk
If your pooch has health issues causing lactation, the vet can prescribe treatment to help keep the milk issue from returning. If your dog has a false pregnancy, however, it's likely she'll experience the same issues again, although not with every heat cycle. Getting her spayed after a false pregnancy ends can help prevent another. To stop the milk quickly during early pregnancy or false pregnancy, decrease your pup's food and water intake slightly for a couple of days under a vet's direction -- it takes a lot of nutrition to keep the milk flowing. Also, using an Elizabethan collar can keep her from licking at her belly, which can stimulate the milk even more.
By Rob Harris
About the Author
While studying journalism in the Army and at the University of Missouri, Rob Harris developed a lifelong love of physical fitness and nutrition, contributing often to a dairy industry newsletter. He has also worked with and created blogs for several family businesses including a professional dog kennel and a flower shop, where he used his experience as an avid gardener to grow plants for sale.