What is the danger of a false pregnancy in dogs?

April 13, 2012

It’s been about 12 weeks after the last heat of the dog. The pet has shown sign of pregnancy – the distended abdomen, the swollen vulva and the enlarged nipples are signs that you will soon get the chance of holding cuddly and adorable puppies. So you prepared the whelping box, old towels were brought out from storage and all the necessary things that might be needed for the birthing of the pet are already on hand. You waited – and waited even more but nothing comes out. Nada! The dog is not pregnant after all. The dog has shown signs of pseudocyesis or what is commonly known as false pregnancy.

Dogs generally come into season every 8 to 9 months. The hormonal cycle of the dog will not be aware if the dog was mated or not – or if pregnancy has occurred. The hormones therefore will show signs of pregnancy. Simply put, the dog is not really pregnant but the body has a different idea. Thus for the next two months after being in heat, physiological, emotional and physical changes will occur in the dog. Because the dog will show signs of pregnancy, the owner will believe that the pet is indeed pregnant.

It will be interesting to note that false pregnancy will cause changes in the dog’s body. The abdomen will enlarge as if there are developing puppies inside. The breast will be engorged with milk and the nipples will enlarge in preparation for nursing the puppies. The dog will mimic a true pregnant dog. She would gain weight even if no changes were made on the amount of food intake. Similar to infanticipating humans, the dog too will have morning sickness. Bouts of vomiting will weaken the dog that will be its usual active self in a moment. The dog would have food cravings too. During false pregnancy, a dog may eat voraciously or may totally shun food. The owner will be puzzled by the dog’s craving for foods that it usually does not eat.

As the dog nears her “due date”, she will manifest a nesting behavior. The dog will look for an ideal place that will be her delivery room. Old blankets and shredded papers will make the nest more comfortable. Because no puppies will be delivered, it is not uncommon for the dog to get toys or any object that will be treated as her puppies. The enlarged nipples of the dog may even secrete milk. False pregnancy is true with humans as well. Does the dog, similar to humans, feel the same disappointment humans feel? Is the dog in danger because of false pregnancy?

False pregnancies are believed to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Studies have shown that the condition tends to recur in female dogs with strong nurturing drive. Affected dog will settle after a few weeks even without treatment. Apart from the emotional distress nothing dangerous will happen to the dog. Although it may be necessary to inhibit milk production as it would be very uncomfortable for the dog if the milk is not nursed. The mammary gland will harden if the milk is not extracted. This can result to mastitis. Some dog owners would allow puppies of other bitches to suckle. The dog affected by false pregnancy would be a surrogate mother. This option though would not be always possible given that the owner may not have other dogs that whelp during the period when the dog is affected by false pregnancy. Moreover, this approach will not really resolve the problem especially if the dog is habitually affected by false pregnancy. Experts have this notion that if the dog would not get pregnant, it will not be affected by false pregnancy. Spaying therefore is the most effective way of resolving this condition.

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