What is False Pregnancy in Dogs?

Updated: July 12, 2022

Isn't it wonderful when you see the signs and symptoms of your dog being pregnant? But, it can also be devastating when you find out it's a false pregnancy and there aren't really any pups, despite all the signs of pregnancy.

Yes, even with all those dog pregnancy signs and symptoms, everything can be just a bluff. False pregnancy, also referred to as pseudo-pregnancy, pseudocyesis, or phantom pregnancy in dogs, can make it appear that your dog is going through all the stages of pregnancy, without ever really being pregnant. The usual steps for how to tell if your dog is pregnant can even be the same for false pregnancy.

But why does phantom pregnancy in dogs occur? In this article, we’ll talk about topics like: what is false pregnancy is in dogs, the symptoms that phantom pregnancy, how to identify false pregnancy in dogs, the reasons why your female dog may go through false pregnancy, and the different treatment & management methods when dealing with this condition.

"If your dog is pregnant, she will produce hormones to maintain her pregnancy. However, if she is not, the hormones produced may mimic actual pregnancy."

What is a false pregnancy in dogs?

False Pregnancy in dogs, also known as phantom pregnancy, canine pseudocyesis, or pseudopregnancy, is a condition where your female dog shows all the dog pregnancy signs and has the usual dog pregnancy symptoms, but she is not really pregnant at all.

False pregnancy is most often caused by hormonal imbalance. On a more profound note, during your female dog's heat cycle, her progesterone levels are extremely high. But these high levels will immediately taper off as her heat cycle reaches its end. The unexpected decrease of progesterone levels gives rise to the hormone prolactin to prevail over the body, causing hormonal imbalance. If your female dog is not pregnant, this can confuse you’re her body and will steer the body's functions to resemble features of a pregnant dog.

If your dog is pregnant, she will produce hormones to maintain her pregnancy. However, if she is not, the hormones produced may mimic actual pregnancy, making it seem like she is going to have puppies to both herself and you.

Why do some dogs go through false pregnancy?

Hormonal imbalance, as mentioned, may be one of the causes why false pregnancy happens in some dogs. However, that is not always the case.

There is no exact reason why false pregnancy in dogs happen, however, some experts think it may be because of the pack behavior of domestic dog’s ancestors, according to Purina. All the female dogs in the pack help raise the family pups and act motherly towards them, even when the pups are not their own. False pregnancy in dogs could be a misdirect of your dog’s natural maternal instinct.

dog pregnancy

True or false (pregnancy)?

To know whether or not it's real pregnancy, a false alarm, or something else entirely, you must know how to identify false pregnancy in dogs. The first step is to check for the following symptoms of pregnancy and false pregnancy.

Enlargement of the mammary glands. Your dog's nipples will appear pinkish in color, will look swollen, and will look a little bit larger than usual.

Mammary secretions. Together with mammary enlargement, your dog will also have mammary secretions that will range from clear (like water) to a brownish color. Your dog may also begin to lactate and produce milk, even with a false pregnancy.

Loss of appetite. Just like in human pregnancies, your dog may also lose her appetite, vomit, and lose or gain weight.

Vaginal discharge. It is common to see a vaginal discharge. A dog’s false pregnancy discharge looks like a mucous that would be present in a true pregnancy.

Abdominal distention. When you think your female dog's body is 'big with babies', she's could just be experiencing a bloated abdomen.

Behavioral changes. Behavioral changes vary from one dog to another. Some dogs will display aggression, others will feel anxious and stressed almost all the time. Many female dogs might even do things that break your house rules - like marking and peeing or pooping in inappropriate places. Remember that your dog feels pregnant, thinks she really is and will act accordingly.

Nesting. Even though the pregnancy is false, your dog will still prepare for the coming of her young and will begin digging up spaces and looking for comfy areas where she can whelp. She will also become over-protective of small inanimate objects in many cases of phantom pregnancy in dogs.

But since the signs of a false pregnancy and a true pregnancy are almost exactly the same, the only way how to identify false pregnancy in dogs with absolute certainty is to have your dog checked by your vet. Your vet may ask you the following questions during your visit:

  • Has your dog been gathering different toys in her resting area and acting as if these items are her pups?
  • Has your dog tried to be overprotective of these toys?
  • Are they visibly attached to these toys?

The best way how to tell if your dog is pregnant is to have your vet perform an abdominal ultrasound. By doing this, your vet will check if there are really puppies and confirm the pregnancy or false pregnancy. If your female dog is pregnant, you will want to be sure as soon as possible to provide to proper care, instead of being surprised with your dog’s water breaking.

Treatment and management

Though all the reasons for false pregnancy are unknown and there are no known cures at the moment, there are still ways on how you can prevent it from happening and manage your dog who's going through it.

Keep your dog's health in tip-top shape. Hormonal imbalance may cause why false pregnancies to happen and that's why your dog's wellness is important. Offer her a healthy and balanced diet, provide hormonal supplementation to balance it all out, and go get some exercise, to steer away from further episodes of false pregnancy.

You may consult your vet about the right nutritional needs for your fur-baby. To give an extra boost of vitamins, you may give her Pet Parents® Multivitamins SoftSupps®. Pet Parents® Multivitamins SoftSupps® will help provide your fur-baby with beneficial, ‘Super’ ingredients that help promote powerful daily health support. This will help to keep her in her most healthy condition.

These multivitamin chews for dogs can also help with your dog’s skin & coat health, hip & joint support, immune health, intestinal function, and helping to maintain a healthy heart. Plus, because we lead with whole meats and veggies, dogs love them!

Reduce mammary gland secretions. To pare down the stimulation that develops lactation in your dog, it's recommended you use warm or cold packs on her nipples if appearing swollen.

Let her wear dog diapers. Since your dog will also undergo behavioral changes like marking, peeing or pooping in wrong places, and will produce vaginal discharge during false pregnancy, dog diapers can be a lifesaver. These diapers will help keep your dog and your house clean.

Opt for high-quality dog diapers like Pet Parents® Washable Dog Diapers that absorbs any liquid fast, keeping your fur-baby dry and comfortable all the time. These washable dog diapers are made with our WickQuick® proprietary fabric and our leak-proof, water-proof shell that locks in the mess. Plus, because they are re-useable, you can put them away and use them again during her next heat cycle.

Consider spaying. Spaying is a great long-term solution to prevent false pregnancy in dogs. Plus, it comes with a lot of health benefits for your fur-baby, as spaying helps reduce the risks of developing urinary infections and mammary gland cancer. Consult your veterinarian to determine if spaying is the right choice for your female dog.

"Opt for high-quality dog diapers like Pet Parents® Washable Dog Diapers that absorbs any liquid fast, making your fur-baby dry and comfortable all the time."

Remember that false pregnancy happens to a lot of dogs and is not considered to be a disease. But, even if your dog’s water breaking is nowhere in her foreseeable future, she may still feel uneasy and may be stressed out since she thinks she's expecting a litter. Consult your vet on how to tell if your dog is pregnant with the most certainty. But, know that your dog will make always it through, with you. Recognize the signs of false pregnancy in dogs and dog pregnancy symptoms to ensure that you are providing the proper care for your fur-baby.