False Pregnancy in Pets

This disorder only takes place in females and doesn't have a specific cause. However, it has been proven that females that have never given birth are much more prone to experiencing a false pregnancy.
False Pregnancy in Pets

Last update: 04 September, 2018

Also known as a “pseudopregnancy,” a false pregnancy is an imbalance that unsterilized females get after a few months of being in heat. False pregnancies in pets are very common, and some females even show all the symptoms of an actual pregnancy.

In this article, you can learn about the symptoms, and how to deal with a false pregnancy in your pet.

What is a false pregnancy in pets?

While it may seem strange, the fact is that one in every two female dogs experience a false pregnancy during their lifetime. This phenomenon takes place due to survival reasons. When it comes to dogs, they actually inherited this condition from wolves — their ancestors.

The dominant female of the pack is the only one who can reproduce. However, the “inferior” females cannot ignore what is natural and instinctual to them. Therefore, once the alpha female gives birth to her pups, the other females take care and even breastfeed her puppies. That’s right, they can produce milk without having given birth.

The other females resemble the mother so much, that the puppies don’t always recognize their actual mother. These instinctual mechanisms were “passed down” to female dogs, and they have not changed even after years of training and domestication.

There are no specific causes for false pregnancies in pets. However, what we do know, is that the females which haven’t given birth are more prone to this disorder.

To understand a bit more about how a false pregnancy appears, you need to look into mammal reproduction. After ovulation, a cyst called a corpus luteum appears in the ovary. If the cyst gets fertilized, it will be in charge of supporting the pregnancy. However, if it doesn’t get fertilized it will disappear.

 Mixed-breed dog laying on a bed

In a female having a false pregnancy, a cyst stays active and stimulates the entire pregnancy mechanism, which is why female dogs experience all the symptoms of an actual pregnancy.


How to detect false pregnancy in pets

There are several physical and behavioral changes in females that can help you spot a false pregnancy. The first ones are usually quite obvious, and include:

  • A bulging abdomen
  • Swollen teats
  • Milk production
  • Weight gain
  • Vulvar flow

When it comes to any changes in habits and overall behavior, here are some of the other symptoms you might see:

  • Changes in appetite (inappetence or gluttony)
  • Constant whining
  • Nervousness
  • Occasional insecurity, fearfulness and aggression
  • More affectionate or “attached” to their owners

Without a doubt, one of the most common ways of knowing whether your dog is experiencing a false pregnancy is by watching how she “takes care” of her toys.

For example, she might take them over to her bed and become aggressive if anyone tries to take one. She may even place them near her teats, cover them with blankets, among other things. Most likely she will look for shelter in warm and comfortable places, as if searching for the right place to give birth.


Is it possible to a treat false pregnancy in pets?

Once you have identified that your pet is experiencing a false pregnancy, the next step is assessing the intensity of this imbalance. Obviously, you should take her to the vet in order to make sure she really is having a false pregnancy. The vet will be able to determine this instantly by doing an ultrasound.

In milder cases, just by hiding the toys she sees as “offspring” will be enough. You can also make a greater effort to keep her distracted and entertained, so that she is too busy to carry out her maternal tasks. Sometimes, veterinarians will recommend a diet change, such as reducing carbohydrates. Some doctors even recommend homeopathic treatments.

There are other more serious cases of females taking anti-prolactin hormones to stop producing milk production. It is important to keep in mind that if liquid does not drain from an animal’s breasts (as would happen when feeding puppies), the animal may suffer from mastitis in the future.

Last but not least, if your pet is experiencing a lot of false pregnancies, the best treatment option is getting her spayed. By doing so, you can completely prevent unwanted pregnancies, breast tumors, uterine cancer, and infections in her reproductive organs.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.