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False pregnancies are surprisingly common in unspayed dogs, fooling owners and their pets alike into thinking a litter of puppies is on its way. False pregnancy or pseudo-pregnancy is a term that refers to a display of maternal (mothering) behavior combined with the physical signs of pregnancy following estrus (“heat”) in an unspayed female dog that is not actually pregnant.

The condition usually becomes apparent four to nine weeks after the animal was in heat. It should clear up naturally within one to four weeks, leaving your pet unharmed and you either disappointed or mightily relieved!

Some vets believe that most female dogs will experience some phantom pregnancy symptoms after each time that they’re in heat, though these are usually too mild to cause concern.

Causes of False Pregnancy in Dogs

The exact cause for this condition is unknown. However, hormonal imbalances, especially of progesterone and prolactin, are thought to play an important role in its development. Some female dogs have been found to show such abnormal symptoms within three to four days after after an ovariohysterectomy (surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus).

Symptoms of False Please in Dogs

Signs that your dog may be experiencing a phantom pregnancy include:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression and/or other behavioural changes
  • Loss of appetitive
  • Nesting – this can involve moving around and digging bedding
  • Nursing – your dog may become particularly attached to a toy
  • Secretion from mammary glands
  • Swollen belly

Treatment of False Pregnancy in Dogs

Mild cases of false pregnancy do not require treatment and will resolve in about 2-3 weeks. If the dog appears physically ill, symptomatic treatment can be started. This can include antiemetics to decrease vomiting and anorexia, or diuretics to reduce mammary secretions and fluid retention.

Your vet may also recommend using warm or cold packs on the mammary glands. This serves to decrease inflammation and minimize the stimulation that promotes lactation. If your dog is acting very anxious or aggressive, your vet may prescribe sedatives or tranquilizers. In rare, very serious cases, hormonal treatment may be required.


Female dogs that are shown to be predisposed to experiencing false pregnancies will most likely do so repeatedly after subsequent heat cycles. That means that the only prevention is spaying. So if you are not intent on breeding your dog, have her spayed before her next heat cycle. This to save you all the stress and discomfort of another false pregnancy.


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