Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the
author of “Brain Training for Dogs.”

False Pregnancy in Dogs

False Pregnancy in Dogs

Celine Sayuri Tagami via Unsplash

What Is False Pregnancy in Dogs?

We all know what a real pregnancy is, so what exactly is a false pregnancy?

Also known as a “phantom pregnancy” or an “hysterical pregnancy,” a false
pregnancy is simply a condition that mimics a real pregnancy in a dog that is
not actually pregnant. You may wonder how a dog could start acting as if it
were pregnant, and why it would do so.

False pregnancy causes dog owners many concerns as the signs mimic a real
pregnancy so closely. It also creates false hopes in dog owners who purposely
bred their dogs and have their fingers crossed.

What Causes False Pregnancy?

The triggers seem to be hormonal. Changes in the endocrine system lead to
hormonal changes in the levels of progesterone (a hormone that maintains
pregnancy and causes mammary enlargement) and prolactin, a hormone responsible
for producing milk) that cause physical changes similar to those seen during a
real pregnancy. False pregnancy in dogs takes place about a month or two after
a heat cycle when the dog was not bred or was bred by a male who turned out to
be infertile.

Why Do Dogs U ****ndergo False Pregnancy?

The exact dynamics are still misunderstood. However, it appears that after a
heat cycle, the unaltered female dog’s body produces the same hormones
associated with pregnancy regardless if she’s pregnant or not. Basically,
after ovulation, the female dog will develop a functioning corpus luteum that
produces high progesterone levels, regardless of the dog’s pregnancy status.
If the dog is pregnant, there will then be a sudden drop in her progesterone
levels and an increase in her prolactin levels (so he starts producing milk)
right when the pregnancy ends. If the dog is not pregnant, the hormones will
have to wear out with time, usually within 4 to 6 weeks.

From an evolutionary standpoint, you may wonder what’s the purpose of a false
pregnancy. There’s a possible theory that may explain it if we look back at
the dog’s ancestors. When canines used to live in the wild in packs, females
would come into heat at approximately the same time (mostly in the late winter
so that pups were born in early spring giving them time to grow strong before
another winter). To avoid squabbles and major disruptions, only the alpha
female would mate with the alpha male (the alpha pair). For more on this read:
David Mech’s studies on wolves. This resulted in a litter of pups that were
well taken care of by the rest of the females in the packs, courtesy of their
strong mothering instincts kicking in due to their ‘false pregnancy”.

So it appears that false pregnancies are pretty normal occurrences in intact
female dogs and that “many dogs experience at least some degree of ‘false
pregnancy’ after an estrus period,” as veterinarian Mike Richards explains.

Signs of False Pregnancy in Dogs

There are countless stories of female dogs adopting animals of different
species causing many people to “melt” in front of this lovely display of
unconditional affection and love. But most likely than not, this is often a
form of anthropomorphism, which means, “attributing to dogs (and other animals
in general) human traits and emotions.” In reality, these dogs babying these
animals may be simply going through a false pregnancy.

And it’s not only other species of animals these dogs are babying, often
they’ll adopt stuffed animals or any other objects that resemble puppies. This
is only one of the characteristic signs of a dog undergoing a false pregnancy,
let’s look at the rest of the signs of false pregnancy in dogs. Generally,
you’ll notice a few or more of the following symptoms:

Physical Symptoms

  • Mammary gland enlargement
  • Weight gain
  • Production of milk
  • Mucoid vaginal discharge
  • Reduced appetite

Behavior Symptoms

  • Nesting behavior. The dog may build a next to raise puppies by tearing up papers and other material.
  • Guarding toys, shoes or other small objects
  • Aggressive behavior when you get close to the dog maternal “den”
  • Carrying toys around and whining
  • Self-nursing
  • Restlessness


If your dog develops lethargy, vomiting, foul-smelling vaginal discharge and
other signs of illness see your veterinarian. Your dog may be suffering from
dog pyometra, a serious and potentially life-threatening uterine infection.

Treatment of False Pregnancy in Dogs

So now that you have proof your dog is suffering from a false pregnancy, what
can you do?

  1. First of all, it’s always best to have your vet rule out a real pregnancy in case you’re not 100% sure.
  2. It’s also good to see your vet if your dog is acting sick. False pregnancy should not make a dog lethargic, vomit, or show other signs of illness.
  3. As mentioned, pyometra is always a risk for a dog that is not spayed and it should always be on the top of your concerns when your dog is not acting right.

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What will the vet do?

Most likely your vet will palpate the abdomen and do an ultrasound to check
for puppies or any abnormal enlargement of organs or fluid accumulation. Other
tests may be carried out based on your vet’s suspicions.

What if the false pregnancy is confirmed?

  • Once a false pregnancy is confirmed, the false pregnancy may be allowed to run its course. Generally, it will resolve on its own in two to three weeks, once the body recognizes its non-pregnant status.
  • Some vets may recommend reducing food intake and limiting water access at night to reduce milk production in lactating dogs.
  • Using warm compresses and stimulating the mammary glands is not recommended as this may increase milk production.
  • Consult with your vet for the best protocol for your dog. While spaying may stop the occurrence of false pregnancy once and for all, it’s recommended to postpone the surgery until this phase is over.
  • Also, consider that spaying a dog near the end of its heat may trigger false pregnancy. Indeed, because her ovaries are removed, her progesterone levels will decrease and her prolactin will increase, tricking her body into thinking that she just has babies. Certain drugs can be used for severe cases, but their costs can be on the high end.

False Pregnancy in Dogs

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
veterinarian immediately.

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli


ash06 on May 14, 2019:

My female German Shepherd was spayed 4 months ago as she had many phantom
pregnancies & was very protective of her toys (Babies), most of her nesting
behaviours have stopped but she still carries around her toy (baby) in her
mouth & whines. She also gets attached to certain items, out of the blue, &
has lunged & tried to attack at times. Not sure what is going on with her? She
has got me very scared at times, one time she did draw blood on my arm.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 23, 2019:

Jennifer you are very welcome. As an owner of an intact female dog who is now
senior, please keep in mind that pyometra is always a possibility, so keep an
eye for loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, lethargy etc and report to your vet
if you notice anything unusual or worrisome. Best, Adrienne

Jennifer on February 13, 2019:

Thank you for this article. My pup has had a reduction in food for the past
week, which started my worries. Then 2 days ago she startdd whining all the
time while carrying around her squeeky toy. But she is not squeeking it…god
forbid if by accident I step on it and it squeeks. She goes mental. She
sleeps, or at least tries to sleep on my bed, in my spot, leaning on my
pillow. She follows me everywhere. Every so often she has laboured breathing,
meaning fast, panting but goes away 2 or so minutes later. Shenis also
sleeping lots. When we are outside playing, she starts digging holes, which
she has never done since a puppy.

She had a litter 9 years ago and is still intact. As I write this, she has
started panting….and now i know why….THANK YOU A MILLION TIMES OVER!!!

Mary on February 27, 2018:

Can a dog still get pregnet after she goes threw a false pregnancy?

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 03, 2017:

Lesa, sounds like your dog goes through false pregnancy! Good to hear that she
takes comfort in her little bed with her stuffed toy. I have chickens and
sometimes they also go through periods like false pregnancy in dogs. They lay
on their eggs and won’t come out! They can get grumpy too~!

lesa on December 03, 2016:

My dog goes through this every heat. She also whines all the time and will not
let go of her stuffy toy, not even for a treat. We make her a little nest bed
and in a few weeks she is fine.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 27, 2013:

Thanks Midget38, it’s an interesting topic. I am taking a college course on
dog reproduction soon and will discuss many of these topics.

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 27, 2013:

Thanks for stopping by, I am happy to hear you found my article on dog false
pregnancy interesting!

Midget38 on April 26, 2013:

Hi Alexadry! Interesting info…will monitor my girls closely! Thanks for

Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on April 26, 2013:

Interesting esp. that my sister has a female dog. Sharing and thank you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2013:

This is an interesting article and will undoubtedly be very helpful to many
people who have dogs in that situation. We once had a spayed female dog who
mothered certain stuffed animals as if they were her own pups. We eventually
gave them away because she was very protective of them and we did not want any
problems to crop up with our other dog or people who might get too close to
her “baby.” Perhaps she just had a psychiatric problem? Ha! It was definitely
not a false pregnancy as she was spayed. Up and interesting votes and will
share and pin.