Natural Treatment For Dog False Pregnancy

What is Dog False Pregnancy

False pregnancy, also known as pseudopregnancy, is a condition in intact female dogs where they show signs of pregnancy, even though they are not actually pregnant. It occurs after an estrus or heat cycle, which is when the female dog ovulates but does not get pregnant (1).

During estrus, hormonal changes occur in the dog’s body in preparation for pregnancy and nursing. These include increased prolactin and progesterone levels (2). When ovulation occurs without pregnancy, the dog’s body still thinks these changes are signaling an impending pregnancy. This leads to behavioral, physiological, and hormonal changes that mimic pregnancy (1).

Some of the most common symptoms of dog false pregnancy include mammary gland enlargement, milk production, nesting, mothering of toys or objects, lethargy, and appetite fluctuations. These signs generally appear 1-2 months after estrus and can last 2-3 weeks (3).

Why It Occurs

False pregnancy in dogs is caused by hormonal changes that begin after the end of a normal heat cycle, according to WebMD (1). After ovulation, a dog’s progesterone levels remain elevated for 8-12 weeks to prepare the body for pregnancy and nursing. When pregnancy does not occur, the dog’s body still thinks it is pregnant. This triggers maternal instincts and physical changes associated with pregnancy, even when no puppies are expected.

According to VCA Hospitals (2), the exact cause of the extended elevation in progesterone after heat is unknown. However, it appears tied to the pituitary gland producing excess prolactin. This hormone stimulates mammary gland development and milk production. The combination of elevated progesterone and prolactin mimics the hormonal profile of a pregnant dog, leading to false pregnancy symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

There are several common physical and behavioral changes that may indicate a dog is experiencing a false pregnancy. Some of the most notable signs include:

Physical Changes

Swollen or enlarged mammary glands are one of the most obvious physical signs of false pregnancy in dogs. The breasts may become enlarged, firm, and even leak milk. This occurs because the dog’s body is responding hormonally as if she is pregnant. According to the American Kennel Club, this enlargement typically peaks at 3-4 weeks and then gradually subsides.

Some dogs may also exhibit abdominal distension or swelling that mimics a pregnant belly. Appetite fluctuations are also common – a dog may eat more or less during a false pregnancy.

Behavioral Changes

In addition to physical changes, behavioral signs are very common with a false pregnancy. According to Blue Cross, these can include lethargy, depression, nesting behaviors, mothering or carrying around toys, and being more affectionate and protective.

Dogs may collect and rearrange bedding to create a nest in preparation for “giving birth.” They may even steal items like clothing or toys to include in their nest. Some dogs also begin to mother or nurse stuffed animals or toys as if they were real puppies.

Lactation

As mentioned above, many dogs will start producing milk during a false pregnancy. Their mammary glands become enlarged and firm, and they may even leak milk or cream-colored fluid. According to the VCA Hospitals, this can occur 2-4 weeks after estrus and may last up to 12 weeks.

Risks

There are some health risks associated with false pregnancies in dogs that owners should be aware of. One of the main concerns is an increased risk of mammary cancer. Female dogs that go through false pregnancies have prolonged exposure to progesterone, which can increase the chances of mammary tumors developing.

According to research cited in Purina’s article “Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs: Symptoms and Causes” (1), bitches that have had two or more false pregnancies have a 25% higher risk of mammary tumors than those who haven’t. Spaying a dog after one year of age but before 2.5 years reduces the risk of mammary cancer.

Uterine disease is another potential risk of repeated false pregnancies. The hormonal changes make the uterus more susceptible to infection (pyometra). As noted in the VCA Hospitals article “False Pregnancy in Dogs,” (2) pyometra can be life-threatening if left untreated. Having your dog spayed stops the hormonal cycles that lead to pyometra.

While not all dogs need medical treatment for a false pregnancy, it’s important for owners to monitor their dog’s health and watch for any concerning symptoms. Consulting with a veterinarian can help determine if or when spaying may be recommended to prevent future recurrences and reduce health risks.

When to See the Vet

In most cases, a dog’s false pregnancy will resolve on its own within 2-3 weeks without any treatment needed. However, veterinary care should be sought if symptoms persist beyond this timeframe or if abnormalities develop in the mammary glands. Watch for excessive mammary enlargement, discharge from nipples, fever, or other indications of infection. Improper lactation and mammary changes put a dog at risk for potentially serious medical conditions like mastitis. Signs of abnormal lactation include dripping milk, hot or painful mammary glands, and continued swelling. Additionally, dogs experiencing severe behavioral symptoms for longer than 3-4 weeks may benefit from a veterinary examination. Your vet can check for any underlying health issues as well as provide advice for managing obsessive mothering behaviors.

According to VCAAnimal Hospitals, veterinary care should be sought if the dog appears physically ill or symptoms persist beyond 2-3 weeks. The vet will check for abnormalities and may prescribe medication. In some cases, they may recommend spaying the dog to prevent recurrence of false pregnancies. Your veterinarian is your best resource for determining an appropriate treatment timeline and recommendations tailored to your pet’s unique circumstances.

Natural Treatments

There are several natural ways to help a dog cope with and recover from a false pregnancy. Reducing stimulation is an important first step. This includes taking away any toys or beds she is mothering and limiting contact with other dogs. It’s also helpful to discourage nursing behaviors like licking or fussing over toys. Distracting with walks, training, or play can shift her focus.

Dietary changes may also ease symptoms. Feed smaller, more frequent meals and avoid heavy foods. Increase calcium intake with dairy, eggshell powder, or supplements to help minimize milk production. Herbal remedies like parsley, sage, or raspberry leaf may help stabilize hormones and reduce milk flow.

Providing outlets for nesting behaviors is another natural option. Offer cozy beds in quiet areas or designate specific toys for her to mother. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage can also help some dogs relax.

Managing Behavior

To help your dog through a false pregnancy, it’s important to manage their behavior in a way that meets their mothering needs safely without reinforcing the pregnancy. Here are some tips:

Provide a warm, cozy space for your dog to nest, like a dog bed or crate with blankets. This gives them a designated nesting area without allowing access to the whole house.

Give your dog a stuffed toy or fake puppies to mother, like stuffed animals or toy squeaky puppies. This lets them satisfy the mothering urge in a harmless way.

Avoid pampering or catering excessively to their maternal behaviors. Don’t let them boss you around or become aggressive. Stick to your normal routine.

Distract your dog when they start collecting or hoarding objects. Redirect their attention with play, a walk, or training.

Discourage nesting behaviors like scratching and digging outside of the designated nesting area. Redirect them to an appropriate spot.

Make sure children do not engage in active play with fake puppies with the dog, as this can reinforce the behaviors.

Be patient, as hormones can take up to a month to return to normal. The behaviors should eventually subside as the false pregnancy runs its course.

Consult your veterinarian if concerning behaviors persist beyond 1-2 months. They can provide additional advice or prescribe medication if needed.

Providing Comfort

There are several natural ways to provide comfort and relieve anxiety for a dog experiencing false pregnancy:

Massage

Gentle massage can help soothe and relax your dog. Focus on massaging the neck, shoulders, back and hips. Use light pressure in circular motions. This can help relieve tension and anxiety. Just be sure to stop if your dog shows signs of discomfort or irritation.

Anxiety Wraps

Wraps designed for anxious dogs can provide comfort by applying gentle pressure. These are similar to compression shirts for humans. The light pressure has a calming effect. Make sure any wrap fits properly and allows your dog to move comfortably (Purina, 2022).

Pheromones

Synthetic dog appeasing pheromones are available as sprays, diffusers and collars. These can help relieve anxiety, fear and stress in dogs. Using pheromones during a false pregnancy may provide some soothing comfort. Consult your vet for recommendations (PetMD, 2021).

Preventing Recurrence

The most effective way to prevent recurring false pregnancies is to have your dog spayed (ovariohysterectomy). Spaying involves surgically removing the ovaries and uterus, eliminating the dog’s heat cycles and ability to conceive. According to the VCA Hospitals, spaying is recommended for dogs that have frequent or severe false pregnancies.

There are also pseudopregnancy vaccines available that can help prevent recurrence. These work by reducing the progesterone levels that induce false pregnancy symptoms. Discuss with your veterinarian whether a vaccine may be appropriate for your dog after a false pregnancy episode.

If you do not wish to spay your dog, there are some steps you can take to try to prevent false pregnancies from recurring. Keeping your dog away from intact males when she is in heat can help minimize triggering factors. Providing adequate exercise, mental stimulation, and affection can also help regulate her hormones and minimize maternal behaviors.

Coping Long-Term

Dealing with a dog’s false pregnancy long-term requires patience and establishing a normal routine. While the symptoms usually resolve within 2-3 weeks, some dogs may experience false pregnancies for up to 2 months. It’s important not to indulge nesting behaviors, but also not to punish the dog for them. Instead, focus on providing exercise, mental stimulation, and gentle training to help create structure and consistency.

Try to maintain your dog’s regular walking, playing, training schedule as much as possible. Interactive games and food puzzles can provide mental exercise to distract from the false pregnancy. Obedience training or learning new tricks is also very helpful for refocusing your dog’s mind and energy.

Be patient and understanding during this time, as scolding or frustrating your dog can make symptoms worse. Offer additional affection and petting to help your dog feel comforted and secure. But avoid overly coddling nesting behaviors. The goal is to gently guide your dog’s behavior back to normal, not reinforce the false pregnancy.

If symptoms last longer than 2 months or your dog shows signs of depression or aggression, consult your veterinarian. They can provide advice tailored to your dog’s needs on gracefully moving past this trying time.

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