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False Pregnancies in Dogs — Symptoms, Signs, Risks & Treatment

↯ Key takeaway points

  • False pregnancies, phantom pregnancies and pseudopregnancies are different names describing the same condition a female dog displays symptoms of pregnancy but is not actually pregnant.
  • About 5 out of 10 female dogs will experience a false pregnancy in their lifetime, making it a common condition.
  • False pregnancies are not dangerous, but if there is continued milk production, vomiting and overwhelmingly lethargic, it may be time to visit a veterinarian.
  • Physical symptoms of a false pregnancy in dogs include mammary enlargement, weight fluctuations, mammary secretions and vaginal discharge.
  • In order to prevent a prolonged false pregnancy, dogs should not be allowed to self-nurse. If symptoms worsen, drugs such as Galastop may be introduced.
Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Veterinarian and veterinary microbiologist working as a veterinary science lecturer at the UVAS, Lahore.
Published on
Thursday 12 July 2018
Last updated on
Friday 19 May 2023
false pregnancies in dogs
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False pregnancies, phantom pregnancies, and pseudopregnancies are different names describing the very same behaviors that a female displays to show that she is going through a pregnancy when she is not.

False pregnancies can be relieving news for some dog owners who are not interested in breeding their dogs. On the other hand, it can be frustrating for breeders who organized a mating and then discover that their female is actually not pregnant.

False pregnancy is prevalent in all breeds of dogs and it is affected by number of births and breeds. There is a need to tackle the reoccurrence/prevalence of false pregnancy in bitches; as this seems to have serious socio-economic impact on the lively hood of dog breeders.

Pseudopregnancies in dogs are not very dangerous but once a female goes through one, you can expect her to go through a few more phantom pregnancies.

What Is a False Pregnancy in Female Dogs?

A phantom pregnancy, or false pregnancy, is a condition in which a female dog displays symptoms of pregnancy yet is not pregnant. Other common terms to describe this phenomenon are pseudopregnancy and canine pseudocyesis. Due to their ability to develop fertilized eggs and procreate, unspayed female dogs are at risk of experiencing a phantom pregnancy, although in some cases even spayed dogs have had false pregnancies. This is usually because the spaying was done during the heat cycle when progesterone levels were high. This fairly common condition results from a hormonal imbalance and tends to occur roughly one to two months after her estrus heat cycle. Moreover, this has also been known to happen in dogs several days after an ovariohysterectomy (spaying). The reason why this hormonal imbalance happens is unknown.

During a bitch’s heat cycle, progesterone levels are at their highest and then quickly decline soon after as the cycle comes to an end. This sudden decrease of progesterone causes a hormone called prolactin to take precedence, causing both hormones to be imbalanced. This imbalance causes a confusion inside the dog’s body and leads to physiological changes that happen to mimic the physical signs and behavior of a pregnant dog. A female dog at this point will think she is pregnant and will act accordingly.

[pullquote-right]Unfortunately, there is not much a dog breeder can do to prevent phantom pregnancies from happening.[/pullquote-right]

Apart from hormones, other known causes of false pregnancies include hypothyroidism, abdominal enlargement, mammary gland cancer, or even mastitis.

Is Pseudopregnancy in Dogs Common?

According to scientific estimates, 5 out of 10 female dogs will experience a false pregnancy in their lifetime. This condition is actually very common and not something that poses too much of a threat to your dog. As daunting as it may sound, most dog owners and breeders will experience a phantom pregnancy at least once in their dog’s life. It is even normal for some female dogs to experience a pseudopregnancy after undergoing an ovariohysterectomy surgery.

You may want to make sure what your dog is experiencing is, in fact, a false pregnancy because many dogs exhibit similar symptoms after a heat cycle and many of the signs are also present in a few other health conditions as well.

How to Identify False Pregnancies in Dogs

False pregnancies in female dogs tend to exhibit similar symptoms of a real pregnancy, therefore identifying a pseudopregnancy would require one to look for these specific signs. It is very important that a dog owner, or breeder, pays very close attention to the dog and in the case of uncertainty, seeks the advice and care of a vet.


Physical signs to identify a false pregnancy in dogs include:

  • Mammary enlargementthe mammary glands will look larger than normal and look swollen.
  • Weight fluctuations — dome dogs may lose their appetite, or due to vomiting, will lose weight, however other dogs will gain weight as in a real pregnancy. She may also experience some fluid retention as well.
  • Mammary secretions — these secretions tend to have a brownish color or may look like clear water.
  • Vaginal discharge — it is actually very common to see some vaginal mucous discharge during a pseudopregnancy in female dogs, so it is best not to rule it out.
  • Lethargyyou will notice a general weakness in your dog and less energy than normal.
  • Milk production — just like in a real pregnancy, a dog may begin lactating and her mammary glands begin to produce milk.
  • Vomiting — although vomiting can be a result of a number of issues, it is often a common sign of a false pregnancy, which may lead to weight fluctuations.
  • Abdominal distention — her belly will look noticeably larger, even bloated.
  • Mood/Behavioral changes — these changes vary widely. She may display extreme moods from aggression to depression. It is also common to see her anxious and fidgety; she may even whine. Because she thinks she is pregnant, she may even self —nurse.
  • Nesting — the dog will think she is actually pregnant and therefore begins to “prepare” for her litter by digging up spaces and creating a comfortable area for whelping. She may even attach herself to stuffed toy animals as a way to protect her offspring.

Canine pseudocyesis condition is known to be difficult to differentiate from a real pregnancy. Dog breeders and dog owner should get a second, more professional opinion. If the dog in question has not mated or did not have any contact with male dogs, then these symptoms are obviously more likely due to a canine phantom pregnancy.

Is Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs Dangerous?

A dog experiencing one false pregnancy is not at a high risk in terms of health consequences. However, it does set her up for future recurrences. A frequent recurrence of false pregnancies may mean your dog’s endocrine system is not functioning properly. You should, then, get her thoroughly checked up with the appropriate physical exams.

dangers of phantom pregnancies in dogs
Pseudopregnancies are not lethal or dangerous to dogs. But if it happens once, it will generally happen again.

If your dog is vomiting and overwhelmingly lethargic and begins to secrete an odorous discharge, then it is best to bring her to your local veterinarian to get her checked out as this may be a result of pyometra, which can be fatal. While a phantom pregnancy is not a matter to be too concerned over, the severity of the issue depends on what is causing it in the first place.

Some dog breeds are highly susceptible to hypothyroidism such as Border Collies, Mastiffs, Rottweilers, and Dalmatians. A dysfunctional thyroid can lead to a rise in prolactin in the blood which leads to a false pregnancy.

Additionally, infected or inflamed mammary glands can be caused by conditions such as mastitis or mammary gland cancer that may lead the dog to think she is pregnant. When a female dog believes she is pregnant she may begin to lactate, which will exasperate the condition and the symptoms can cause more serious health problems. Furthermore, abdominal swelling may be due to problems with the organs and needs to be thoroughly checked out by a professional.

These are examples of causes that can pose serious threats to your dog. Also, continuously licking her teats, as well as self —nursing, encourages more milk —production and may cause inflammation, so it should be avoided. It is quite expectant for dog owners and breeders to experience fear in the case of a phantom pregnancy in female dogs. After all, the idea of preparing for an unexpected litter can cause some underlying anxiety if it is unplanned.

How Long Does a Dog False Pregnancy Last?

The actual symptoms begin to surface around 4 to 9 weeks after the female dog’s heat and can occur at any age. A false pregnancy usually runs its course and slowly begins to fade and will usually last 4 to 6 weeks.

It is important to differentiate if the symptoms are due to an actual phantom pregnancy or its due to high hormonal fluctuations because she just ended a heat cycle. In some dogs, however, the duration can last up to several months so you should get her checked out regardless. The duration of a phantom pregnancy really depends on various factors such as the dog’s health, the reason for the hormonal imbalance, the breed of the dog, or whether it is her first time or not.

pseudopregnancy in dogs
Pseudopregnancy in dogs: it looks like a pregnancy, but it is not.

How to Treat Phantom Pregnancies in Female Dogs?

In general, pseudopregnancies in female dogs often resolve on their own time by allowing it to run its natural course. The average time a fake pregnancy tends to last is 2 to 3 weeks. After that, the dog’s body reaches a point in which it knows it is not pregnant, thus the symptoms are alleviated. In order to prevent a prolonged false pregnancy, do not allow her to self-nurse.

If you notice that after some time the false pregnancy has not subsided, or the symptoms have worsened or her nipples swell up and turn colors, then it may be time to get her treated by a vet. In this case, it may be possible to use drugs such as prolactin inhibitors by consulting your vet to prevent further milk production. Other treatments that may be required or used to alleviate the discomfort are tranquilizers to treat her anxiety, or diuretics to decrease the milk production in the mammary glands and alleviate fluid retention.


There are things you can do at home to relieve some of the symptoms in your dog:

  • apply warm compressions to her mammary area to help stop milk production and swelling
  • get her an Elizabethan collar, or cone, so that she can’t reach her nipples
  • you may opt to get her spayed if you do not plan to ever breed her (recommended)

If you decide to do spay your female dog, make sure you do so after all the symptoms have completely subsided.

How to Prevent the Recurrence of a False Pregnancy in a Dog?

As previously mentioned, false pregnancies in dogs are fairly common and are not usually a cause for concern. However, because of the risks associated with a false pregnancy, a dog owner may want to prevent it from happening again. Considering that one false pregnancy increases the chances of her experiencing another one in the future. Although there is nothing you can do to prevent false pregnancies from happening, you can take control of the matter by getting your dog spayed as this is the only known preventative measure one can take for complete assurance. Avoid birth control pills as they have been found to increase the chances of a false pregnancy.

11 comments on “False Pregnancies in Dogs — Symptoms, Signs, Risks & Treatment”


    Thanks – this info is very educational for newbie dog breeders and easy to learn!


  2. MissPrincess

    This was very informative. I have a female who went into heat 3 months ago. She is now lactating and carrying around the same stuffed animal. No other behaviors. She is having a phantom pregnancy. This confirmed my original thought, and gave very valuable information that I was not aware of. Much appreciated!

    1. Callie

      My young dog had a false pregnancy and helped another of my dogs nurse when the litter was too big to feed. Go figure! But it’s frustrating too, because I want to breed her and I can’t find good information on breeding prospects after a false pregnancy.

      1. Mel

        I am also looking for information on breeding a dog after an occurrence of false pregnancy. I cant find any information on this. I would like to know if people were successful. Have you found anything?

  3. Glynis finch

    My 2yr old is a Jack Russel x shes been looking after 3 of her toys digging on blankets etc, not eating properly or drinking much water shes been to the vet as she started with diarrhoea and sickness then they kept her over night gave her iv fluids and bland food I’ve been doing the same with the food but tried every thing to get her to drink properly bit without much luck I was at the end of my tether until I read this article do you think it’s what she has as shes a bit lethargic and treating her 3 toys as puppies ???

  4. Callie

    Can I successfully breed my dog after she’s had a false pregnancy? What can I do to try to ensure pregnancy in the future?

    1. Mel

      Have you attempted to breed your female and been successful?

  5. Aryan

    Before 82 days I mated my female but she didn’t give birth to puppies that mean she didn’t conceive but from last 2 days she’s secreting blood. Initially the blood was brownnish red but now her blood become red without any other substance like puss and anything else
    It was his 2nd heat when I mated her
    Time gap between 1st and 2nd heat was 3 months and 10 days

    She just secreted whitish thick liquid during his pregnancy but didn’t gave birth

    Now i’m confused that it is heat cycle or any infection
    Please guide me because there’s not any vet and animal’s hospital

    Please guide me its reque

  6. Charlotte

    12 year old chihuahua I’m so scared.

  7. Charlotte

    They just told me that my 12 year old Chihuahua is lactating and sitting and looking at hindsight I realized if she has had every pregnancy symptom that there is and I Sleepwalk so I’m wondering if something has happened or is she sick and some way I am so very very scared

  8. Anita

    I got my female boxer at 7 months old and two months later she went into heat. That was around Sept 24. Now I’m told she’s having a false pregnancy. My vet has only seen pictures I’ve sent her of her belly. My vet just says we’ll spay her in the new year but it is the middle of December now. Shouldn’t she be over this already. Should I be concerned something else may be wrong. My vet also thinks it’s ok to spay her if she’s still having symptoms. I’ve never experienced this before and I’m worried about her. Should I get another opinion. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

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