False pregnancy in dogs can happen to any breed at any age and telling the difference from a real pregnancy isn't easy.
Congratulations, your dog is pregnant -- or is she? Before you start having visions of cuddling fuzzy little grandpuppies, you should be aware that false pregnancy in dogs is a real thing.
Also known as "pseudopregnancy," false pregnancy in dogs has all the outward appearance of a true pregnancy. Los Angeles house call vet Dr. Armaiti May explains, "False pregnancy is a condition in which an (unspayed) female dog shows signs of maternal behavior such as nesting, adoption of inanimate objects, enlarged mammary glands and milk production in the absence of an actual pregnancy or litter of puppies." The condition can also make your dog restless and irritable and she may vomit up her meals or stop eating altogether.
Cause of False Pregnancy in Dogs
So what might cause your dog to think and act like she's pregnant? "High concentrations of the hormone prolactin cause the mammary gland development, lactation and maternal behavior exhibited during false pregnancy," says Dr. May. Why this hormonal confusion happens remains unknown.
It's also not limited to a particular breed or age group. If your female dog hasn't been spayed, says Dr. May, it could happen to her, especially if she's experienced a heat cycle within the last few months.
How to Tell if Your Dog Is Really Pregnant
Unfortunately a home pregnancy test isn't going to be enough to tell whether your dog is really pregnant. "A dog guardian can have a veterinarian do a radiograph (X-ray) of the dog's abdomen to determine if she is pregnant," suggests Dr. May. "Fetuses mineralize by 45 days into gestation, which means their bones will show up on X-ray." If you don't want to wait that long, ultrasound can be used at an earlier stage to tell whether your dog is actually carrying puppies.
What to Do for Your Pseudopregnant Dog
For mild cases, you don't need to do anything, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. The condition should run its course within two to three weeks. If, however, the condition is making your dog sick or causing major changes in behavior, you should seek treatment for her symptoms.
This might include medication for anxiety or diuretics to reduce milk production. Hormonal treatment might also be in order. Dr. May adds, "Cabergoline is an anti-prolactin drug, so it's purpose is to ameliorate the clinical signs associated with false pregnancy." This would no doubt bring relief to both you and your dog.
False Pregnancy Prevention
There's only one surefire way to prevent false pregnancy in dogs and that's to have your dog spayed. However, Dr. May warns, "it shouldn't be performed while the patient is showing clinical signs, as this could actually prolong the symptoms, sometimes even for years."
Spaying your dog early, before she has her first heat cycle, will prevent her from ever experiencing the discomfort and confusion of a pseudopregnancy -- not to mention that it will also protect her from conditions such as breast cancer and pyometra, a life-endangering uterine infection. If you don't have plans to breed your dog, then the best cure for false pregnancy is prevention.
Have good reason to think it's the real deal? Check out How to Tell if a Dog Is Pregnant for more info.
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance writer and editor whose articles on pet care have appeared on such popular websites as The Nest and The Daily Puppy. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and their family of furbabies.
*This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.