What is it?
Actually, false pregnancy (or “pseudocyesis”) is a perfectly normal feature of a bitch’s reproductive cycle. However, not being terribly observant, humans tend not to notice it most of the time. As a result, when it is more marked than usual, we think it’s a disease.
Why is it important?
On average, most bitches come into season once every 6-7 months. However, unlike humans, a bitch’s body doesn’t check to see if she’s got any puppies inside before deciding that she’s pregnant - she’ll make all the appropriate biological changes anyway, just in case! As a result, after each season, her body will act as if she’s pregnant for 55-65 days, whether or not she has any pups. This is known as the dioestrous phase of her cycle; at the end of it, she will either whelp (if she is pregnant) or her reproductive tract will shut down for 3 or 4 months until her next season, and she’ll go back to normal..
What's the risk?
All unneutered bitches will undergo false pregnancies after a season! Bitches who have been treated with progesterone-based drugs or who have stolen and eaten contraceptive tablets may also develop symptoms at any time, although it’s uncommon.
What happens to the pet?
In many cases, the symptoms will only be very subtle, and most owners won’t recognise them. The symptoms typically include behavioural changes (nesting, mothering of toys or occasionally other animals, restlessness, and sometimes self-nursing); abdominal distention and enlargement of the mammary glands, often followed by production of milk; loss of appetite, vomiting and sometimes depression; and in more dramatic cases, occasionally even signs of false labour.
How do you know what's going on?
The symptoms are pretty diagnostic - however, it’s always worth making sure that she isn’t really pregnant with an ultrasound scan!
What can be done?
In most cases, no treatment is necessary - as soon as she realises she isn’t pregnant, the symptoms will disappear on their own. Sometimes, reduction in food intake over 3-4 days will stop milk production; reduction in water intake will also work butdo not attempt this as it may be dangerous to your dog. If the symptoms are more severe, a drug called cabergoline can be used to block the hormones involved in milk production and pregnancy, ending the false pregnancy in a matter of days.
How can I protect my pet?
If you don’t wish to breed from your bitch, get her neutered that will prevent false pregnancies and also protect her from a number of other serious health risks.