You’ve probably experienced your female dog acting like she was pregnant, even though she’s not even had a chance to breed. If this sounds familiar, then you’ll be happy to know that you’re not the only one. Many dog owners have seen their female pets behave in a way that indicates that they’re pregnant, even when it can’t possibly be the case. The technical term for this is pseudocyesis, a false pregnancy that even manifests itself in such a way that physical symptoms of pregnancy are apparent.
If it’s the first time that you’ve had a female dog who hasn’t been spayed, then as an owner you may feel worried or scared. Our advice is to speak to your vet who will put your mind at ease and explain why this is happening. You may hear that a false pregnancy is also be called a pseudopregnancy, and it is something that’s fairly common and does display both physical and behavioral changes in a female dog.
Signs Dogs Can Fake a Pregnancy
We know from past experiences that dogs have fake pregnancies and a visit to the vet is the best course of action. Vets have even reported that a dog’s breasts can become swollen and can produce milk during a fake pregnancy. Additionally, a dog’s stomach can look swollen and fuller. These are the kinds of symptoms that vets are used to looking out for and sharing with dog owners.
We also know that dogs display a nesting behavior. They act as if they are not comfortable and pace around in a state that resembles panic. Vets have also stated that dogs in these situations may collect items, such as toys belonging to other pets in the household, and may display attachment behavior, in which she acts like they are her babies and she keeps them where she sleeps. These dogs also act depressed, don’t want to eat, and seem restless. To ensure that a dog is not pregnant, a vet will perform an abdominal ultrasound.
Other behavioral changes you may see include:
Digging - As if searching or creating a comfortable place to retreat. Digging can also occur in female dogs who are looking to try and get outside if it is still close to her heat cycle.
Aggression - Trying to stop you coming closer to her, particularly if she is feeling physical symptoms and vulnerable. It is often a sign of protection but it is important, even in a fake pregnancy that you respect her space and avoid her spending time with small children in case of outbursts.
Anxiety - Showing signs of worrying, whining, and other anxiety can indicate a changed mental or physical state in your dog.
Restlessness - Refusing to sit still or sit down is common in pregnant dogs and therefore fake pregnancies.
Nesting - Particularly if pseudopregnancy has been experienced for some time, your dog will start to nest and create an environment in which to raise puppies.
History of Dogs Faking Pregnancy
Although we know it to be the case scientifically, there is not much evidence to suggest a historical link between dogs and faking pregnancy, particularly when physical symptoms are manifested.
However, there is a link between the emotional side of faking a pregnancy and in some instances, a dog has pretended they are pregnant for attention. In the wild, the female who is pregnant receives attention and higher social status within the pack, so there could be an indication that females fake pregnancy in this instance. However, it has become more common for dogs to do this since they have become more domesticated to get treats and 5-star treatment from us, humans.
Science Behind Dogs Faking a Pregnancy
Estrus tends to take place twice each year, and a dog can begin this cycle from six months of age. This all depends on each individual dog and the dog’s breed. When your dog first experiences Estrus, it may be irregular and it can take a few cycles before you can spot a clear pattern. There is no specific time for when a dog is in heat, and you may find that if your dog is smaller, she may experience this cycle more than twice a year. For larger dog breeds, it may be that this cycle only takes place once a year. Once Estrus comes to an end, you may see that your dog still exhibits behaviors related to motherhood such as refusing to eat, weight fluctuations, milk production, vomiting, mammary gland enlargement, and other things.
The reason for false pregnancies during Estrus is due to the fact the ovaries release eggs that wait for sperm to fertilize them. After an egg has been released, there is a part that is left called the corpus luteum. This gets produced by an ovary, and if a female does not get pregnant, it fades away.
Before fading away, the corpus luteum produces hormones including progesterone for approximately 60 days. These hormones usually help a female to prepare for a pregnancy. On some occasions, the corpus luteum can remain for longer than 60 days, and this is where it can be mistaken for a pregnancy.
Coping With a Fake Pregnancy
In order to avoid fake pregnancies occurring in the first place, it is best to get your female dog spayed as soon as possible. Also, make sure your dog is in good overall health, for instance, eating a well-balanced diet and avoid giving her unhealthy foods.
A vet is likely to tell you that you need to give your dog lots of time, patience, and love when she is experiencing a fake pregnancy. By doing this, you will soon see that she returns to her normal self. There are side effects of a false pregnancy, such as discomfort because of engorgement related to lactation and mammary gland enlargement. To ease these, alternate a warm and cold compress.
Ultimately, you need to remain understanding, calm, and patient when a pseudopregnancy occurs. Regardless of whether a pregnancy is real or not, it is a stressful condition for any dog. If the owners around them are anxious, the dog will experience increased stress levels too. Remain grounded and follow the guidance given by your vet.
If you have children living in the household, then it is worth making them aware of what is going on and how to deal with it, so the situation remains under control and does not get worse.
By Charlotte Ratcliffe
Published: 04/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020