Why Is My Female Dog Whining And Carrying A Toy?

Normal Behavior for Unspayed Females

A common behavior in unspayed female dogs is known as false pregnancy, or pseudopregnancy. This condition occurs after the dog goes through an estrus or heat cycle. Even though the dog was not actually bred, her body still responds hormonally as if she were pregnant. False pregnancy symptoms can begin anywhere from 1 to 12 weeks after the heat cycle ends.

One of the most common signs of false pregnancy is a female dog whining and carrying around a toy, which represents her “puppy” in her mind. She may pick out a specific stuffed animal or toy to mother. The nesting behaviors of false pregnancy also kick in, so your female dog may tear up blankets in her bed or move her toys around as if building a nest. All of these behaviors like whining and carrying toys are completely normal for an unspayed female going through a false pregnancy.

Possible Causes

There are two main possible causes for this behavior in unspayed female dogs:

Hormone Fluctuations

Female dogs go through hormonal changes during their heat cycles that can sometimes lead to what is known as a “false pregnancy.” This happens because their hormone levels mimic the rise and fall of hormones in a pregnant dog, even when no pregnancy has occurred [1]. These hormonal fluctuations can cause mothering behaviors like whining and carrying around a toy.

Mothering Instinct

Some female dogs have a very strong natural mothering instinct, which can get activated by the hormonal changes of their heat cycles [2]. This instinct makes them treat toys like surrogate puppies and exhibit mothering behaviors like carrying, nesting, and crying over the “puppy.”

When to See the Vet

If symptoms of a phantom pregnancy last more than a few weeks, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet. Prolonged phantom pregnancies can be taxing on a dog’s body and mind. The vet can evaluate if your dog needs extra support during this time.

You should also see the vet if your dog seems distressed by the phantom pregnancy symptoms. Signs of distress include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, and restlessness. The vet can recommend medications or supplements to help ease your dog’s anxiety and regulate her hormones.

According to VCA Hospitals, “The longer the symptoms persist, the higher the concern that a true medical problem exists and the greater the need for diagnosis and treatment.” Consulting with your vet is advised if your dog’s phantom pregnancy symptoms last for more than 3-4 weeks. They can rule out other potential causes and determine the best course of action for your dog’s health and wellbeing.

Reducing Stress

Since a false pregnancy in dogs is often triggered by stress and anxiety, reducing stressful situations is key. Some ways to reduce your dog’s stress include:

  • More exercise/playtime – Getting your dog more active exercise like going for longer walks, playing fetch, or visiting a dog park can help relieve pent-up energy and anxiety. This gives them an outlet for their maternal instincts.
  • Puzzles and games – Engaging your dog’s brain by doing puzzle toys, scent games, or obedience training creates mental stimulation. This helps distract them from the false pregnancy symptoms.
  • Cat toys she can ‘nurse’ – Allowing your dog to mother stuffed animal toys or play with cat toys with crinkly material inside can satisfy her maternal urges in a harmless way.

Providing various forms of enrichment through play, training, and toys gives your dog healthy outlets for her mothering behaviors. This can greatly reduce her stress levels and minimize the symptoms of her false pregnancy (Source: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/false-pregnancy-or-pseudopregnancy-in-dogs).


Spaying a female dog provides numerous health benefits. According to the Mendocino County Animal Care Services, spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats (https://www.mendocinocounty.org/government/animal-care-services/spay-neuter-benefits). The Brown University Research Laboratory notes that spaying decreases the possibility of perianal tumors (https://www.brown.edu/Research/Colwill_Lab/CBP/spaynueter.htm).

In addition, spaying prevents female dogs from experiencing false pregnancies. When an unspayed female dog goes through her heat cycle and does not become pregnant, her body still responds as if she is pregnant. She may gain weight, produce milk, and exhibit nesting behaviors. These false pregnancies can cause anxiety and stress in dogs. Spaying prevents this unnecessary burden on your pet’s health and emotions.

Caring for Her

It’s important to be patient and provide extra care for your female dog during a false pregnancy. Here are some tips:

Give her space in a quiet area of your home where she can nest comfortably. Set up a cozy bed and provide soft blankets or towels that she can arrangehow she likes.

Offer treats and affection to help her feel relaxed. Give praise and gentle pets if she seeks attention. Speak to her in a soothing, calm voice.

Allow supervised interaction with trusted family members or other pets if this comforts her. But also allow alone time when needed.

Take her on moderate walks to relieve stress, but avoid over-stimulation. Keep a consistent daily routine.

Let her carry around a toy if this eases her maternal instincts. Avoid taking it away forcefully.

Monitor her physical health. Note any changes in appetite, weight, or mammary glands. Contact your vet if concerns arise.

Overall, be patient and compassionate during this hormonal time. With rest and empathy, she should return to normal within 2-3 weeks.

Watch for Aggression

Female dogs experiencing a phantom pregnancy may become more possessive and protective due to hormonal changes. Their maternal instincts tell them to guard their “puppies” and this can lead to aggression. According to Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs, the extra progesterone released during a phantom pregnancy can cause irritability and mood swings.

It’s important to supervise your female dog closely if she is around children during this time. Her hormones may cause her to growl or snap if she feels her space is being invaded. Keep children away from her preferred sleeping area and toys. Don’t allow them to disturb her when she is resting. This helps avoid triggering her protective instincts.

With proper management and understanding of her condition, you can get through this temporary phase without incident. Her hormone levels will return to normal after the false pregnancy ends. Remain calm but vigilant, and consult your vet if aggression becomes a serious concern.

Be Patient

The symptoms of a false pregnancy typically resolve on their own within 2-3 weeks. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, mild cases usually do not require any treatment and the symptoms will subside in approximately 14-21 days[1]. Be patient and understand that this is a natural condition that will pass. Do not scold or punish your dog for her motherly behaviors, as this will only add stress.

However, if the symptoms persist for longer than 3 weeks or seem to be getting worse, consult your veterinarian. They can examine your dog and determine if there is an underlying medical issue causing the prolonged symptoms. In rare cases, medication may be prescribed to help curb the symptoms of a particularly severe case of false pregnancy. But in most scenarios, simply waiting it out and providing extra love and care is the recommended approach.

With time and patience, your dog should return to her normal self. Stay alert for any concerning changes, but otherwise just give her a little extra attention until the maternal instincts subside.

[1] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/false-pregnancy-or-pseudopregnancy-in-dogs


In summary, a female dog whining and carrying around a toy is likely experiencing a false pregnancy. This is a normal, temporary condition caused by hormonal changes after the estrus cycle where the dog exhibits maternal behaviors without being pregnant. The key points are:

  • False pregnancies usually occur 1-2 months after estrus in unspayed females when progesterone levels drop.
  • Symptoms include nesting behaviors, mothering toys, lethargy, enlarged nipples, and milk production.
  • Treatment involves patience, removing toys/nests, and potentially medication if symptoms are severe.
  • Spaying is the best way to prevent reoccurrence. Most symptoms resolve on their own within 2-3 weeks.
  • This is not a dangerous condition, just a hormonal imbalance. It’s best to gently discourage the behaviors until it passes.

With understanding and care, a false pregnancy will run its course and a female dog will return to normal.


Breed specific forums. Canine reproductive expert blogs. Published veterinary journals on canine behavior. Resources on interpreting canine body language. Trusted animal welfare organization sites. Pet store informational resources on canine toys and anxiety. Academic publications on developmental stages in canines.

Recommended resources for readers include speaking with their veterinarian for professional advice tailored to their specific dog, enrolling in obedience training courses, reading books by certified dog trainers, and seeking guidance from reputable breed-specific organizations.

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