Phantom pregnancy in dogs is a perplexing phenomenon for dog owners. Understand why phantom pregnancy in dogs occurs and how to manage it as you continue reading.
What is a phantom pregnancy in dogs?
Phantom pregnancy in dogs refers to the condition in which intact female dogs show behavioural and physical signs of pregnancy. However, they are not actually pregnant. For this reason, it is also known as pseudo or false pregnancy.
Rather than being a disease, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon in unspayed female dogs. It commonly occurs after their season or heat. Let’s take a look at their estrus cycle to better understand phantom pregnancy in dogs:
This is the first stage of the heat cycle. During proestrus, a female dog is not receptive to mating yet. However, her body undergoes changes, hinting that it is preparing to mate.
A female dog will experience swelling of the vulva and bloody vaginal discharge. Hormonal changes also happen, which catches the attention of male dogs.
During this stage of the heat cycle, a female dog is ready to mate. She releases pheromones that attract male dogs, and she will be receptive to mating. Ovulation comes along with the oestrus.
This stage prepares the female dog’s body for pregnancy. She will experience hormonal changes. However, if there is no pregnancy, the hormones go back to normal, and the signs of oestrus will gradually abate.
Signs of heat stop as the female dog’s reproductive system becomes inactive. This allows the uterus to rest itself to be ready for the next possible pregnancy.
Hormonal changes for pregnancy naturally take place when female dogs reach the end of the diestrus stage. If conception does not happen, the hormones return to normal within 1–2 weeks.
However, in some female dogs, the hormonal changes in the diestrus stage cause prolonged or intense symptoms. Thus, even when pregnancy did not happen, the body will show signs of conception.
How can you tell if a dog is having a false pregnancy?
Phantom pregnancy in dogs exhibits the same symptoms as a true pregnancy. The signs of false pregnancy may vary between individuals, but below are the most common ones that you should be aware of:
Physical Symptoms of Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs
- Milk production
- Lack of energy
- Swollen abdomen
- Development of the mammary glands
- Loss of appetite but does not lose weight due to the amount of excess fluid retained.
Behavioural Symptoms of Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs
- Exhibits nesting behaviours (e.g., gathers clothes and other objects in a certain place or digs a den)
- Shows aggression and protectiveness over her nest and adopted toys, which she considers her puppy
Phantom pregnancies in dogs cause females pooches to be easily irritated. Your sweet pooch may suddenly growl or snap when her human companions get close to her.
Keep in mind that this is because of her need to protect her imaginary puppies. It would be best to inform family members, especially children, to refrain from touching her nest or the items she collected.
What causes a phantom pregnancy in dogs?
The main cause behind phantom pregnancy in dogs remains a mystery to experts. Some theorise that it might be due to the hormonal imbalance of progesterone and prolactin.
Others believe that it can be a symptom that some female dogs have hypothyroidism or canine mastitis (breast inflammation).
In another theory, pseudo pregnancies are thought to be essential for dogs living in the wild. Every female dog in the pack helps in looking after the litter of their “alpha pair.”
They experience phantom pregnancies, which trigger their mothering instincts. It allows them to raise the puppies in the pack even though they are not the biological mother.
What dogs are prone to phantom pregnancy?
As stated earlier, false pregnancy in dogs is a common condition in intact female dogs. Researchers speculate that 50% – 75% of intact females will experience this condition. It is less common in spayed dogs.
Phantom pregnancy in dogs can happen to any canine regardless of their age and breed. But some dogs are more prone to exhibit this condition.
According to a study, the following dog breeds have a 75% chance of experiencing false pregnancy:
How long does a phantom pregnancy last in dogs?
Generally, the symptoms of phantom pregnancy in dogs happen 6–12 weeks after their heat. It takes around 2–3 weeks for this condition to disappear.
Why does my dog keep having false pregnancies? If your dog is unspayed and one of the breeds stated above, that could be the cause of her repeated false pregnancies.
Also, mind that if your dog experiences pseudopregnancy after her heat, there is a high likelihood that it will occur successively during her next heats.
Can false pregnancy kill my dog?
No, phantom pregnancy in dogs is not deadly. In most cases, it occurs with mild symptoms. However, if symptoms persist for more than 4 weeks or become severe, your pooch needs to be checked by the vet.
Extended or intense symptoms of a phantom pregnancy are commonly caused by canine mastitis. Be warned, though, that repeated occurrence of this condition increases the risk of breast cancers and tumours in the mammary glands.
In some cases, the clinical signs of pyometra, a life-threatening illness caused by E. coli, are mistaken as phantom pregnancy symptoms in dogs.
On the other hand, if you are unsure whether your dog is pregnant or not, the symptoms may be caused by actual pregnancy. To find out what prompted the symptoms to become severe or prolonged, get your pooch diagnosed by the vet.
How is phantom pregnancy in dogs diagnosed?
To diagnose phantom pregnancy, the vet will inquire about your dog’s recent heat and mating history. They may need to run other tests to come up with an accurate and definitive diagnosis.
Below are the other possible diagnostic exams your vet may recommend:
- Abdominal palpation
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Blood tests
How is phantom pregnancy in dogs treated?
If underlying health issues cause phantom pregnancy, the treatment will be focused on curing or managing these diseases. Once they are successfully treated, the symptoms of phantom pregnancy will subside.
On the other hand, if the signs were truly caused by false pregnancy, treatment is not required, provided that the condition is mild. The vet will usually recommend waiting for the symptoms of phantom pregnancy to die down.
To decrease your dog’s anxiety, the vet may need to sedate her. As phantom pregnancy in dogs can trigger milk production, your pooch will be given diuretics. This is to alleviate fluid retention or reduce her lactation.
The vet may also place an Elizabethan collar (E-collar) on her to prevent her from licking her nipples. This will prevent stimulation, which can lead to more milk production.
If hormonal imbalance is the culprit, hormonal treatment will be administered to stabilise her hormones.
How do you help a dog with a phantom pregnancy?
Phantom pregnancy in dogs can be very disconcerting and confusing to affected canines. Here are a few tips on how you can ease your furry friend’s anxiety and discomfort:
- Does your dog continue to produce milk? Breast milk production can be halted by fasting your dog for 24 hours. Make sure to put her on a liquid diet for the next 48 hours. Before carrying this out, make sure to inform the vet.
- Due to the hormonal changes caused by phantom pregnancy in dogs, your pooch may experience restlessness. Take her out on walks and commence other fun doggy activities to keep her distracted from her discomfort.
- Phantom pregnancy in dogs can spark the motherly instinct of female pooches. Your dog will show symptoms of becoming attached and protective of her adopted toy. You may be thinking, “Should I take my dog’s toys away during a false pregnancy?” Yes, but wait for the right timing. Take her adopted toys away when she’s busy having a fun exercise outdoors.
- Keep household items away from her. Make sure to store it in a place where your dog cannot reach. This will prevent her from forming an attachment to the objects.
- Phantom pregnancy in dogs can be a very baffling experience for your canine companion. Be understanding and sensitive to your dog’s feelings. Sometimes she will need some alone time, so it is good to give her the space she needs.
How to prevent phantom pregnancy in dogs
Prevent phantom pregnancies from reoccurring by getting your female dog spayed. However, spaying should not be done whilst she is experiencing a false pregnancy. Otherwise, the condition will persist for a long period of time.
How long after a phantom pregnancy can a dog be spayed?
To prevent future episodes of phantom pregnancy in dogs, spaying must be carried out only after all symptoms are resolved.
Aside from stopping future phantom pregnancies, spaying also reduces the risk of other health problems linked to phantom pregnancy in dogs, particularly mastitis, ovarian cancer, and mammary cancer. It also eliminates the possibility of unplanned pregnancies.