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What is Nesting?

Wild dogs that are close to delivering their litter will dig to create a safe and warm den.  It is a maternal instinct to provide a safe environment for her litter.  If you find your dog digging inside closets, trying to make a “den” under a bed, ripping blankets and excessively grooming, she may be nesting.   Reasons your dog is nesting may be:

  • Your dog is close to delivering her puppies
  • False pregnancy
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Mastitis

Nesting can be a normal and natural process if a dog is pregnant.  If the dog is not pregnant, nesting may be caused by a serious underlying condition.

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Why Nesting Occurs in Dogs

Pregnancy

You may not be aware that the last time your dog was in estrus she became pregnant. Your dog may be nesting because she is close to delivering puppies. If there are small children in the household they should be supervised while they are with the “mother to be”. Dogs that are pregnant can get very protective and additionally, she may not be feeling well.

False Pregnancy 

False pregnancy in dogs occurs to females that are not spayed. Pseudocyesis is another term for false pregnancy. False pregnancy occurs when the dog is in estrus and her progesterone levels increase. The higher levels of progesterone can trigger the hormone prolactin to be produced. The hormone prolactin enables female mammals to produce milk. The hormones progesterone and prolactin will cause physical changes to your dog such as weight gain, abdominal distention, mammary gland enlargement and mammary gland secretions.  

Your dog can also experience behavior changes such as moodiness, lethargic, aggression, restlessness and whimpering. She may even carry a stuffed toy around and treat it like a puppy. Your dog is nesting because she believes that she is having puppies. 

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroxine (thyroid hormone). Thyroxine is a hormone which normally helps regulate the rate the body burns calories. Hypothyroidism can cause erratic estrus cycles, which can trigger the body to have a false pregnancy. Hypothyroidism can also cause weight gain. 

Dogs predisposed to hypothyroidism include Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Huskies, Rottweilers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Border Collies, Weimaraners and Malteses. 

Mastitis

Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammary glands. Mammary glands can get swollen and inflamed due to infected ducts. Swollen mammary glands may also be caused by tumors. The swollen mammary glands can make a dog think she is pregnant and nesting occurs.

What to do if your Dog is Nesting

If your dog is nesting she should be seen by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will help determine if your dog is pregnant or if she is having a false pregnancy.  The doctor will perform a physical exam and. he may also recommend a complete blood count (CBC) and an abdominal ultrasound. If your dog is having a false pregnancy the veterinarian may recommend diuretics and mild sedatives. The medication Bromocriptine may help decrease milk production.

If your dog was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, she will need a daily dose of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine.  Once the medication therapy is started, your dog will need to be on the synthetic hormone for the rest of her life.

Mastitis may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics. Warm compresses on the glands may help relieve the discomfort of the swollen mammary glands. Tumors may need to be surgically removed. Patients that are diagnosed with malignant tumors may need chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

If your dog is pregnant she will be prescribed nutritional supplements. The veterinarian may want to test her for parasites and worms, which can be transmitted to the puppies. Most dogs are pregnant for 58 to 64 days. When the puppies are born, the mother may show aggressive behavior toward people and animals. Small children and any additional pets in the household should not be allowed near the puppies. The aggressive behavior usually disappears within a few weeks after delivery. Puppies are usually weaned in 6 to 7 weeks but should stay with the mother until they are at least 12 weeks of age. 

Prevention

Spaying your dog will help prevent a surprise pregnancy and false pregnancies. Additionally, spaying your dog may also prevent uterine infections and breast tumors.  Yearly wellness checks are recommended, to ensure your dog is healthy and up to date on her vaccinations. Many health conditions may not be prevented but they can be diagnosed and treated in the early stages.

Prevention of Nesting

Spaying your dog will help prevent a surprise pregnancy and false pregnancies. Additionally, spaying your dog may also prevent uterine infections and breast tumors.  Yearly wellness checks are recommended, to ensure your dog is healthy and up to date on her vaccinations. Many health conditions may not be prevented but they can be diagnosed and treated in the early stages.

Cost of Nesting

Treatment cost for the symptom will vary depending on what is the underlying cause of your dog’s nesting. For example, the cost of treating a false pregnancy may be $250 while the cost of medical care for hypothyroidism can be around $1300.

Nesting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Brandy Wine
Red nose Pitt bull
7 years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Nesting

I have an older female Pitt bull mox, not entirely sure of he breed as she was a rescue but leaning towards rednose/shar pei mix.
She's around 7 years old and has been spayed for at least half of her life if not longer. The last 24 hours I've noticed that she is "nesting" in my laundry basket. Curious as to what may cause this.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1823 Recommendations
Firstly the main question is did she have a full ovariohysterectomy or ovarian sparing spay? If there is still some ovarian tissue left over (either from an ovarian sparing spay or ovarian remnant syndrome) it may causes some strange behaviour at any point during her life. It would be best to check in with your Veterinarian to make sure that there isn’t any ovarian tissue left over causing this behaviour. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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