Can A Dog With False Pregnancy Nurse Puppies?

False pregnancy, also known as pseudopregnancy or pseudocyesis, is a condition that can occur in unspayed female dogs after an estrus or heat cycle. During this time, the dog exhibits physical and behavioral signs of pregnancy even though she is not actually pregnant. A key question many owners have is whether a dog experiencing a false pregnancy can successfully nurse and care for orphaned puppies. This article will examine that question in depth.

What is False Pregnancy?

False pregnancy, also known as pseudopregnancy or pseudocyesis, is a condition in unspayed female dogs. It occurs when the female dog shows signs of pregnancy but is not actually pregnant 1. This happens after an estrus or heat cycle, which causes the dog’s body to undergo hormonal and physical changes to prepare for pregnancy even when no mating or fertilization has occurred.

The exact causes of false pregnancy are not fully understood, but it is thought to be triggered by the progesterone hormones that occur naturally after ovulation. Progesterone levels remain elevated even if the dog is not actually pregnant, leading to symptoms associated with pregnancy 2.

Common signs of false pregnancy include:

  • Enlarged mammary glands
  • Milk production
  • Appetite changes
  • Lethargy
  • Nesting behaviors
  • Mothering of toys or other objects

These symptoms typically last 2-3 weeks before resolving on their own as progesterone levels return to normal. While false pregnancy is not harmful in most cases, it’s a good idea to notify your veterinarian if you notice any concerning symptoms in your dog.

Can False Pregnancy Cause Lactation?

Yes, dogs with false pregnancy can often produce milk and lactate, even though they are not actually pregnant. This is due to hormonal changes that mimic those of a real pregnancy. According to PetMD, when a female dog ovulates, her progesterone levels increase, which prepares the mammary glands for milk production. If conception does not occur, progesterone levels decline, triggering the release of prolactin which initiates lactation. Therefore, dogs experiencing a false pregnancy often secrete milk and display maternal behaviors just as if they birthed a litter of puppies.

As described by Mar Vista Vet, during pseudocyesis the dog’s mammary glands become enlarged. Owners may notice leakage of milk or observe the dog expressing milk herself. According to VCA Hospitals, this milk is real and contains the nutrients and antibodies needed by newborn puppies. So while not pregnant, hormonal changes during a false pregnancy can stimulate lactation and milk production in dogs.

Can They Produce Milk Sufficient for Nursing?

Dogs experiencing a false pregnancy can sometimes produce milk, but it is usually not sufficient to fully nurse puppies. The milk production triggered by a false pregnancy is often sporadic and lower in volume compared to a postpartum mother dog 1. This makes it difficult for orphaned puppies to get complete nourishment from a pseudo-pregnant dog.

However, there are some instances where a dog with a false pregnancy has been able to produce ample milk and successfully help nurse an orphaned litter. For example, a dog named Lola who was experiencing a phantom pregnancy was able to produce milk and foster seven orphaned puppies, helping them survive and thrive 2.

So while the milk production from a false pregnancy may not be reliable or sufficient in most cases, it is possible for some dogs to lactate adequately to assist in nursing. Discuss options with your veterinarian if considering allowing orphaned puppies to nurse from a pseudo-pregnant dog. Ensure proper supplementation and monitoring if pursuing this path.

Risks and Considerations

There are some health and logistical risks and considerations when allowing a dog with false pregnancy to nurse orphaned puppies. The milk produced during false pregnancy may not contain the proper nutritional balance that puppies require for healthy growth and development. Puppies nursed by a pseudo-pregnant dog may fail to thrive or develop nutritional deficiencies over time.

Additionally, the false pregnancy may be prolonged by the suckling of the puppies, which can lead to continued abdominal enlargement, behavioral changes, and excessive mothering behaviors from the pseudo-pregnant dog. Allowing nursing may make it more difficult for the dog’s body to resolve the false pregnancy. There is also a risk that the dog may become overly protective or aggressive toward the puppies or their owners.

From a logistical standpoint, the quantity of milk produced may not be sufficient to fully nourish a litter of orphaned puppies. Supplemental bottle feeding may still be required. It can also be challenging to determine when to wean the orphaned puppies off of the pseudo-pregnant dog.

One source notes that “Allowing the puppies to drink the milk could potentially prolong the false pregnancy and may not provide the necessary nutrients for the puppies” (

Overall, it’s recommended to consult a veterinarian before allowing orphaned puppies to nurse from a dog experiencing false pregnancy. While it may provide some nourishment, there are definite health and logistical risks to consider.

Alternatives for Orphaned Puppies

If puppies are orphaned, there are a few alternatives for feeding and caring for them:

Bottle Feeding: Bottle feeding orphaned puppies is one of the most common methods. The puppies will need to be fed a milk replacement formula every 2-3 hours around the clock. It’s important to use puppy milk replacers made specifically for dogs, not cow’s milk or human infant formula. The bottles, nipples, and formula must be warmed to help mimic the temperature and experience of nursing from the mother. Care must be taken to bottle feed slowly and allow the puppy time to swallow to prevent aspiration.

Surrogate Nursing Dogs: In some cases, a surrogate nursing mother dog may be available to nurse orphaned puppies. This is ideal if the surrogate is lactating with her own litter that is a similar age. However, even non-lactating females may sometimes take over nurturing orphaned puppies. The foster mother should be monitored closely initially to ensure she allows the orphaned puppies to nurse and cares for them appropriately.

Milk Replacers: There are commercial powdered milk replacers specifically formulated for puppies available at pet stores or from veterinarians. These contain the nutrients and calories growing puppies need. They are mixed with water according to package directions based on the puppies’ age. Bowl feeding may be an option for older orphaned puppies over 3-4 weeks old.


When to Get Veterinary Help

In most cases, false pregnancy in dogs is harmless and resolves on its own within 2-3 weeks. However, there are some situations when you should seek veterinary assistance:

If the pseudo-pregnant dog is trying to nurse orphaned puppies, but they seem weak or are failing to thrive, veterinary help is recommended. Puppies need adequate nutrition to stay healthy, and a dog with false pregnancy may not be able to produce sufficient milk. A vet can assess the puppies’ condition and recommend supplemental feeding if needed.

You should also contact your vet if the pseudo-pregnant dog shows signs of illness like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite. Physical issues caused by the hormonal changes of false pregnancy may require medical treatment. Your vet can examine your dog and provide any necessary care.

In severe cases where the dog is extremely distressed by false pregnancy symptoms, the vet may prescribe medication to help curb the effects of the condition. Seek prompt veterinary assistance if your dog’s behavior is highly abnormal or detrimental to her health.

While false pregnancy usually resolves on its own, it’s important to monitor your dog’s condition and get veterinary help if her health seems compromised. This will ensure the well-being of both the pseudo-pregnant dog and any orphaned puppies she may be trying to nurse.

Caring for the Pseudo-Pregnant Dog

If your dog is exhibiting signs of false pregnancy, there are some things you can do at home to help provide comfort and reduce milk production:

Provide Comfort – Create a quiet and comfortable area for your dog to rest. Provide soft bedding and her favorite toys. Be patient and understanding if your dog is moody or brooding over her “puppies.” This behavior usually resolves on its own within 2-3 weeks.

Reduce Milk Production – Avoid stimulating the nipples by massaging or expressing milk, as this can encourage further milk production. You can apply cold compresses to the mammary glands to help reduce swelling and milk flow. Reduce food and water intake a little.

Monitor Health – Keep an eye out for signs of mastitis, which is an infection of the mammary glands. Symptoms include hot, painful, swollen, or red breasts. Seek veterinary care if you suspect mastitis. Also monitor for lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, or other concerning symptoms and notify your vet.

Most cases of false pregnancy in dogs resolve on their own. But if symptoms persist for more than a few weeks or your dog seems distressed, take her to the vet for an examination and treatment options. Providing excellent nutrition, ample exercise, and mental stimulation can also help minimize episodes of false pregnancy.


Preventing False Pregnancy

The most effective way to prevent false pregnancy in dogs is to get them spayed. Spaying removes the ovaries and uterus, stopping the dog’s heat cycles and eliminating hormone fluctuations that can cause pseudopregnancy (PetMD). Spaying should ideally be done before the dog reaches sexual maturity around 6 months of age.

For intact dogs, owners can take steps to avoid triggering pseudopregnancy after heat cycles. Limiting physical contact with male dogs, not allowing access to toys or blankets that could be mothered, and avoiding extended belly rubs can help (VCA Hospitals). Medications like Cabergoline may also be prescribed by a vet to prevent hormone changes.

While natural remedies like herbal supplements may help soothe symptoms, spaying is the most surefire way to prevent recurring false pregnancies. If a dog exhibits symptoms, owners should consult their vet for guidance on treatment and prevention options.


False pregnancy in dogs can cause a female to lactate and seemingly go through the same mothering behaviors as an actual pregnancy. However, while the mammary glands may swell and produce milk, it is usually not sufficient to successfully nurse an entire litter of orphaned puppies. The quantity and quality of milk is lower, putting the puppies at risk of dehydration and malnutrition. It’s best to find an actual nursing mother dog or use puppy formula. That said, some pseudo-pregnant dogs can successfully feed a puppy or two, so it’s not impossible. But careful monitoring is essential, along with veterinary guidance, to ensure the puppies are getting proper nourishment. If you have an orphaned litter, speak to your vet to determine the best feeding options. In summary, while female dogs with false pregnancy can sometimes produce milk and maternal behaviors, it does not necessarily mean they can fully nurse and care for puppies, and alternatives should be considered.

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