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.
Symptoms of false pregnancy
The mammary glands may enlarge and even drip milk, just as in actual pregnancy. Other signs can include:
- reduced appetite
- 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
Estrogens are an umbrella term for sex hormones secreted primarily by the ovaries. The three significant estrogens include:
Progesterone is a hormone involved in the menstrual cycle. It prepares the tissues for pregnancy.
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture
False Pregnancy or Pseudopregnancy in Dogs