Phantom (or false) pregnancy is an issue that may occur in up to 75% of non-neutered female dogs

The female dog will act like she is expecting a litter of puppies, and will show usual pregnancy signs. Thus, it is both a behavioral and physical issue.

Dogs are the only animals having phantom pregnancies. Originally, dogs lived in packs and only the alpha couple was allow to procreate. Other females had false pregnancies to be able to help the dominant female to feed her puppies.

How does a phantom pregnancy occur?

On a regular reproduction cycle, the female will be on heat, mate and then give girth to a litter. If a female dog doesn't mate when she's on heat, she will have a calm time until her next heat.

But in some cases, when the female doesn't mate she will act like she did. Indeed, she will believe that she's in gestation : that is a phantom (or false) pregnancy.

How to spot a phantom pregnancy

Phantom pregnancy usually occurs 2 weeks after the heats.

The female dog will behave differently: 

  • asking for your attention all the time
  • licking her teats and genitals
  • being a little bit pettish
  • eating less or or not eating at all
  • isolating herself and start putting together a comfy nest for her puppies
  • in some cases, stealing items (stuffed animals, toys, pillows), bringing them into the nest and acting like they are actual puppies

The dog will show actual gestation signs: 

  • her teats will be swollen
  • some milk might come out

What to do when a dog is having a phantom pregnancy 

First, you must make sure it is not a real pregnancy. If your dog potentially can be pregnant, take her to a veterinarian; that way they can tell if it's a real or false pregnancy by only feeling her belly or using X rays or ultrasounds.

If it is a phantom pregnancy, it is important to know that it is a pain in the neck for the dog and for you. You must help her to quit this situation as soon as possible.

First, keep your dog busy: play with her, take her out for long walks, have her meet other 4 legged friends... make sure she isn't bored.

Then, you must not reinforce the idea that she's expecting. If she's nursing pillows, take them away. If she follows you everywhere, push her away. The goal is to make her understand that she doesn't need extra attention because she's not pregnant.

If she's licking herself too much, use a pet cone.

If you notice your dog's teats look too swollen or are of a different color, take her to the veterinarian. He can give her medication to stop lactation. Otherwise, your dog's teats might get infected (mastitis).

Phantom pregnancy usually lasts for 3 weeks.

What you shouldn't do

Do not rub the dog's teats or worse, pump the breast. This will stimulate the lactation when we want to stop it.

The only solution

To avoid this traumatic experience, there is only one solution : neutering.

By neutering your dog before her first heats, she will never go through a phantom pregnancy. It's also the most effective way to prevent breast tumors.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to wait that your dog has a first litter before to neuter her. Female dogs do not feel a need to "be a mother", they just have a reproduction instinct. She won't suffer from early neutering.

For your pet's sake, have her neutered before her first heats, around 6 months old.

photo credit : Yummypets 

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