False Pregnancy in Dogs

Updated Jun. 4, 2024
A dog lays on a bed with a blanket.

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In This Article


What Is False Pregnancy in Dogs?

False pregnancy in dogs—also called pseudopregnancy or pseudocyesis—is a condition which can occur in unspayed female dogs because of normal changes in hormone levels.

Unspayed females experience estrous cycles (“heat”) as early as 6 months of age that repeat approximately every six to twelve months thereafter.

Hormone levels drastically change during this time to prepare the dog to conceive puppies and maintain a pregnancy. Typically, if the dog doesn’t conceive, hormone levels decrease, and the dog’s body returns to normal.

However, in dogs experiencing false pregnancy, this change in hormones tricks the body into thinking pregnancy has occurred and the dog develops corresponding symptoms.

It’s unclear why this occurs in some dogs and not others.

Dogs with false pregnancies experience the same symptoms as dogs who are truly pregnant, such as swollen mammary glands (breasts), low energy, and nausea.

Because it can be difficult for pet parents to tell the difference between a true pregnancy and a pseudopregnancy in dogs, have your veterinarian examine your pup to make an accurate diagnosis.

Dog False Pregnancy Symptoms

Phantom pregnancy in dogs causes the same behavioral and physical changes seen in pups who are pregnant.

Some common symptoms of false pregnancy in dogs include:

  • Restlessness

  • Nesting behaviors, such as moving blankets to form a bed

  • Reactivity

  • Lethargy

  • Mammary gland enlargement

  • Enlarged nipples

  • Leaking of milk

  • Changes in appetite

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fluid retention

  • Weight gain

What Causes False Pregnancy in Dogs?

False pregnancy in dogs is the result of a rapid decrease in the hormone progesterone and an increase in the hormone prolactin.

These hormonal changes occur normally in an unspayed female dog for about six to eight weeks following heat.

The same hormonal changes can also occur in a female dog who was spayed during a part of the heat cycle when she had high progesterone. The spay causes the same rapid progesterone to decrease as the normal heat cycle.

This can result in a false pregnancy.

How Vets Diagnose False Pregnancy in Dogs

If your dog is showing signs of a false pregnancy, bring her to the vet.

If her symptoms, history, and physical exam findings all fit this condition and there’s no chance that your dog is pregnant, then a false pregnancy can be diagnosed by your vet without additional testing.

If there is a possibility your dog could be pregnant, an ultrasound or X-ray may be used to see if she is carrying puppies depending on the time since possible conception.

Other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms like an enlarged mammary gland or changes in appetite that may need to be differentiated by a veterinarian.

If there could be other causes for your dog’s symptoms besides a false pregnancy, additional testing may include blood work, urinalysis, or biopsy of the mammary gland.

Treatment for False Pregnancy in Dogs

Usually, false pregnancy in dogs resolves in two to three weeks without any treatment.

For dogs that are irritating their nipples by licking them, a T-shirt, recovery cone, or inflatable collar may be needed.

Avoid milking or touching your dog’s nipples and mammary glands, as this will encourage more milk production.

To permanently treat pseudopregnancy and prevent future occurrences, talk to your vet about spaying your pup. A veterinarian can recommend the proper timing of surgery based on when the dog started her estrous cycle.

If surgery is done at the wrong time during her cycle, it can prolong false pregnancy in dogs.

Alternatively, medication can be given that blocks the prolactin hormone so that symptoms resolve. However, this doesn’t prevent future occurrences.

Recovery and Management of False Pregnancy in Dogs

Since false pregnancy in dogs is due to a hormonal change, your dog should be back to normal within a few weeks as her hormones cycle again.

Female dogs who aren’t spayed and experience false pregnancies may have them during every heat cycle.

Prevention of False Pregnancy in Dogs

To prevent false pregnancies, dogs should be spayed prior to their first heat cycle.

This is generally around six months of age, but it can vary depending on the breed of dog.

Aja Senestraro, DVM


Aja Senestraro, DVM


Dr. Aja Senestraro is a holistic veterinarian based in Seattle, Washington. As the founder of Sea to Sky Holistic Vet she is privileged to...

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