Phantom or False Pregnancy in Female Dogs: Symptoms and Treatment

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What is a Phantom or Pseudopregnancy in female dogs?

Unneutered female dogs may suffer from a condition known as Phantom or False Pregnancy (pseudocyesis). It affects 60% of all female dogs.

It is important to mention that Phantom Pregnancy is not considered a disease: even in nature, among female wolves, some non-dominant ones may be affected by this condition. Pseudo-pregnancies occur due to a very specific reason: conservation of the species.

High-rank female dogs are the ones that mate and bare offspring. However, given that there is a high probability of new mothers dying in childbirth, nature provided a solution: it makes sure other females in the pack are physically “ready” to adopt the orphan puppies.

Phantom Pregnancy in Female Dogs: Duration

From a scientific point of view, False Pregnancy may be clearly explained and is related to a hormonal factor: the female dog goes through an estrus or heat cycle that lasts around 6-8 months, producing at a certain stage high levels of progesterone (the “Pregnancy” hormone). If the female is not mated, this hormone subsides gradually back to normal levels.

However, if progesterone levels remain high, even after 1 or 2 months after being in heat, a False Pregnancy may develop, lasting between 15 and 20 days. Then it may clear up naturally.

So, how is a False Pregnancy manifested in female dogs?, And how can its owner tell? The female dog feels as if it is pregnant, the hormones make it feel like this, along with all its implications and typical symptoms of true Pregnancy, such as:

Physical Changes

  • Milk production,
  • Swollen belly,
  • Secretion from mammary glands (water or brownish liquid),
  • Mammary enlargement,
  • Weight fluctuations. Its appetite may vary. It may lose weight because of its inappetance or viceversa,
  • General lack of energy, lethargy,
  • Mucoid vaginal discharge.

Behavioral Changes

  • Depresion, it suddenly becomes sad and distant,
  • Frequent whimpering,
  • Anxiety,
  • Aggressive behavior: it may turn violent towards you or other dogs at home,
  • Nesting: it tries to build a warm and comfy nest, by picking up blankets, clothes and everything that makes its doghouse comfier,
  • Mothering instincts: in absence of a real puppy, it “adopts” toys or similar objects, caring for them as if they were her own puppies, carrying them everywhere around the house, and then to its doghouse.

How can I find out if my dog is really pregnant?

It is hard to distinguish a False Pregnancy from a real one, since the symptoms are so similar.

Therefore, it is integral to know if your female dog has been mated. Try to remember if she has been left alone lately with other unneutered male dogs. If she has always been close by and no other dog lives in the house, your dog is unlikely to be pregnant.

Phantom Pregnancy in Female Dogs: Treatment

When the False Pregnancy symptoms are limited to behavioral aspects or momentary loss of appetite, generally no pharmacological treatment is needed, since the condition clears out naturally in 1 or 2 weeks.

Nevertheless, when galactorrea (milk discharge from nipple in a non-pregnant non-lactating female dog) occurs, vets must intervene by administering drugs that block prolactin production. By interrupting the flow of milk, the mothering-related behavior associated with False Pregnancy also ceases.

In these cases, it is advisable to start treatment as soon as possible, otherwise milk engorgement may lead to inflammation and mastitis. In the long term, these, along with more cases of False pregnancies, may be associated with later development of mammary tumors.

Phantom Pregnancy in Female Dogs: What Not to Do

Among the measures taken by the owner, we recommend not touching the female dog’s breasts; and making sure the female dog does not lick them herself: by doing so, milk production would be stimulated. An excellent strategy may be taking away the toys the dog uses as “surrogate puppies” and taking it out on a walk. This is not only a healthy activity from the physical point of view, but also it distracts her from its temporary instinct to care for her offspring.

False pregnancies are not “solved” by getting the female dog pregnant, it actually is a false belief. In the following heat cycles, this condition would occur again just like before the Pregnancy.

The real solution is getting your female dog spayed. This is recommended by almost all vets, especially in female dogs with frequent recurrence of False Pregnancies accompanied by Galactorrea.

If you have more doubts, you may ask a vet near your house, who will provide the best service and answer all your questions.

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