A Primer on False Pregnancy in Dogs

False pregnancy is a common problem in dogs. 

During the estrus or “heat” cycle: in an intact female dog

  • estrogen levels increase
  • the vulva swells
  • and produces a bloody or straw-colored discharge

The hormone changes ensure willingness to accept a male for breeding. 

Toward the end of the heat cycle, progesterone levels increase, preparing the uterus for an anticipated pregnancy.

Even though they didn’t mate, female dogs sometimes act like they’re pregnant even when they’re not. This is where the term false pregnancy comes from.

False pregnancy refers to maternal behavior combined with physical signs of pregnancy. The symptoms typically develop 4-9 weeks following the heat period.

A Primer on False Pregnancy in Dogs

Symptoms of false pregnancy

The mammary glands may enlarge and even drip milk, just as in actual pregnancy.  Other signs can include:

  • lethargy
  • reduced appetite
  • vomiting
  • fluid retention

Some female dogs even behave as if they have a litter. For example, they might:

  • build a nest
  • and cuddle up with small, inanimate objects

Your veterinarian can determine if your dog is pregnant or not. First, they will palpate the abdomen and (possibly) take an x-ray or ultrasound. 

Treating false pregnancy

False pregnancy often doesn’t require treatment. The problem usually goes away on its own in a few weeks.

However, some dogs might need symptomatic treatment to:

  • address anxiety
  • reduce milk production
  • reduce fluid retention
Dogs’ bodies can be fooled into thinking they are pregnant when they have just gone through a heat cycle and ovulated.



Estrogens are an umbrella term for sex hormones secreted primarily by the ovaries. The three significant estrogens include:

  • estrone
  • estradiol
  • estriol

Progesterone is a hormone involved in the menstrual cycle. It prepares the tissues for pregnancy.

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture

Further reading:
False Pregnancy or Pseudopregnancy in Dogs

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