HOW TO Treat False Pregnancy in Dogs

false pregnancyStella, a breeder’s Yorkshire Terrier, spends most of her time in a cozy nest of newspapers and towels she built herself, nursing and fussing over her newborn litter of five puppies.

But the puppies are actually socks and stuffed animals. Stella never gave birth.

Should Stella’s owner rush her to a pooch psychologist? Not necessarily. False or phantom pregnancy (also called pseudocyesis) occurs in an estimated 60 percent of female dogs that have not been spayed.

What Are the Symptoms of False Pregnancy in Dogs?

An unspayed female dog can experience false pregnancy symptoms that last for weeks, according to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center website. The symptoms first start appearing 60 to 80 days after the dog’s last heat (estrus) cycle.

These are some of the signs:

  • Mothering inanimate objects – Your dog may treat stuffed animals, socks and other inanimate objects as if they were puppies.
  • Enlarged nipples and lactation – Your dog’s mammary glands may become engorged, and she even may produce milk.
  • Extended abdomen – Your dog’s stomach area may swell and she may gain weight.
  • Your dog may seem to go into labor.

What Causes a False Pregnancy in Dogs?

False pregnancy is a natural phenomenon that dates back to when dogs lived in packs, according to D for Dog. Although all the females in the pack would come into heat at the same time, only the alpha (dominant) female would mate. “The alpha female’s pups would be cared for and suckled by the rest of the females in the pack,” writes the website. “Pseudopregnancy (phantom pregnancy) made this possible, as all the other bitches would have milk to give to the alpha female’s offspring.”

A state of false pregnancy is actually normal for dogs, writes Mike Richards, DVM, on, because of the sustained production of progesterone when they go into heat. This means that with each heat a dog is hormonally pregnant, regardless of whether she is actually pregnant; in other words, her body will feel to her as if she is pregnant, although there really are no puppies. Unlike other mammals (and primates) that have a monthly cycle, dogs only go into heat every six to eight months, which extends the production of progesterone. False pregnancy occurs when a dog’s progesterone level does not return to its normal level after her heat cycle.

The symptoms usually disappear when the dog’s hormones return to their normal levels. Some dogs may experience a false pregnancy with every heat. Dogs that have whelped (given birth) are more likely to experience this phenomenon than those who haven’t.

Although false pregnancies occur most often in unspayed females, reports that dogs that were spayed when their progesterone level was high during their heat cycle can have false pregnancies. Spayed dogs that have hypothyroidism may also have false pregnancies due to blood changes that stimulate progesterone.

How is a False Pregnancy in Dogs Diagnosed?false pregnancy

Your vet will check for puppies by feeling your dog’s abdomen and, if necessary, also taking an X-ray or ultrasound.

“It is usually possible to feel distinct lumps in the uterus representing individual embryos from about the 28th to the 35th day of pregnancy,” Richard writes. “Before and after that it can be hard to identify a pregnant uterus easily. After 45 days or so, when the skeletons begin to calcify, it is often possible to feel the distinct hardness of a puppy skull when palpating the abdomen, or to identify the puppies in an X-ray. By now, if your dog is not pregnant, your vet will probably be able to tell you that, since she should be pretty far into the pregnancy and at least uterine enlargement should be palpable.”

Your dog should also be examined to rule out pyrometra, a serious hormonal abnormality affecting unspayed dogs. As with a false pregnancy, pyrometra also can occur after your dog’s heat cycle. Its symptoms include drainage from the vulva, increased drinking and urinating, lack of appetite and/or lethargy.

How is a False Pregnancy in Dogs Treated?

While a false pregnancy can be somewhat of a nuisance, it generally does not cause long-term problems. The symptoms normally disappear on their own after a few weeks.

“It is not usually necessary to treat for symptoms of false pregnancy, but they can be so close to those of a real pregnancy that the two can be very confusing,” Richards writes. He notes that while there are medications available that suppress the symptoms, he does not recommend them since the symptoms will typically return once the medications are discontinued. He said he did not know of a safe and effective way to limit milk production and other false pregnancy symptoms.

“It is not an emergency situation,” he writes. “There are medications to suppress the symptoms of false pregnancy but there tends to be a rebounding of signs once the medications are discontinued, so I favor not treating this condition if possible. If milk production causes discomfort, an analgesic such as aspirin may be helpful.”

Mar Vista Animal Medical Center also notes that touching the mammary glands will stimulate milk production, so you should avoid applying warm compresses or wrapping them to prevent leakage. If necessary, your dog may need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent her from licking herself. In extreme cases a diuretic can be prescribed to end the lactation. Mar Vista warns not to deprive your dog of water, since it could be potentially dangerous.

How Can a False Pregnancy in Dogs Be Prevented?

Of course the best way to prevent a false pregnancy – as well as more serious problems like breast cancer and pyrometra – is to spay your dog. Although it may seem like a good idea to spay your dog while she is experiencing a false pregnancy in order to stop the symptoms, you should wait until the symptoms have disappeared. Although spaying removes the ovaries, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center it does not stop the production of prolactin from the pituitary gland, so spaying at this time could extend the false pregnancy.

Since false pregnancy can cause anxiety in your dog, giving her a supplement containing reishi mushroom will help to keep her calm. The properties in reishi mushroom also help to fight canine cancer by stimulating the production of potent natural anti-cancer substances produced in the body, which can inhibit the growth of tumors and even cause them to regress.

Related Topics
Why Do Some Dogs Experience False Pregnancy?
HOW TO Tell If Your Dog is Pregnant
HOW TO Help Your Dog Give Birth
HOW TO Treat Your Dog’s Miscarriage

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

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Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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People who do not spay their animals are a huge problem. Forget about your litter of puppies. There are too many animals in shelters and unwanted as is. If you are not spaying your 'pure bread' dog because you want puppies, you are one selfish person and a huge problem in the animal kingdom. 

This article is in poor taste. SPAY YOUR ANIMAL IMMEDIATELY!


What happens if your dog has a false pregnancy and won't eat?  Has  anyone had that problem?


My Bull mastiff is now in her second false pregnancy. Can they ever really have puppies. We really want one litter


I have a jack russel mini and she has had 2 false pregnancies now she looses milk her tits awollen up and she fat as though she pregnant. she has taken all her toys into her bed and she pushes them to her teats and washes them she carries them round by the neck as though they are real babies. she is very protective over the bed and toys though she growls at you if you go by her bed usually she is a big softy I don't know weather to let her have puppies or to have her spade she is 6 yrs old never had puppies.


I have a 3 yr old mini Chihauhau and everytime shes in heat her stomach gets swollen. Everytime you pick her up you have to scoop her up by her butt because if you pick her up by her middle she lets out this blood curdling cry. Other times her stomach has striveled up and the same thing. You have to pick her up like shes going to break. She also sleeps in our bed all day curled up in our blankets.  I know I should get her spayed but havent found a vet that has prices lower then $300. All I know is I hate seeing her like this.


My 3yr old Rottweiller is having a false pregnancy at the moment her teats are enlarged and she is producing milk she had a very bad discharge and as I was worried about pyrometra I took her to the vet who carried out a scan on her to check for anything suspect in her womb and also gave her some antibiotics.  She is behaving very differerntly than she usually does as she wants to stay in her bed which is very unusual for her and is trying to keep our three cats in the one place all the time.  It is driving us batty I can't wait until it ends we may let her have a litter the next time she breaks and then have her neutered if not she is definitely getting neutered anyway!!!!!!


My dog dolly is going throw this as well she is doing the nesting in my closet with blanks and has be come very provocative over me and my daughter she is even producing milk she has been like this going on for a month now her belly hasn't swelled yet. I hope this ends soon


We have a 1 year old Lab that after her 2nd heat is now in pseudopregnancy. Bella has not tried gathering anything she appears to be pregnant. Today she started having discharge from her vagina. I have never had a female dog. So, I am not sure what to do for her. Can anyone help me?



Our 2 yr old cocker is experiencing a pseudopregnancy for the third time. The first two times were mild, but this time it is very intense. She was in heat 2 mos. ago. She has gathered every soft item in the house that she can get to: stuffed animals, baby dolls, slippers, small pillows, etc. She is a about a week into it this time and is eating and drinking very little. She has been frantic - running around the house, carrying "her pupplies"- putting them all together now on a bed behind some pillows. She cries and howls. She looks exhausted and is panting all the time. It's quite pitiful actually. She is extremely protective of them, and stays with them 24 hrs a day other than to go outside. (She normally is my shadow). Her mammory glands are quite swollen. The vet has given me just a few xanax just to relax her enough at night so she can rest and so we all can sleep. We would like to have 1 litter of real puppies with her next heat, then have her spayed. We hoping this will come to an end soon.


My gorgeous shihitsu coco is experiencing this since we got a kitten 5weeks ago. I intended having her neutered but was told we couldn't because of her symptoms and that we have to wait till they subside - middle Sept, hopefully. The kitten loves it though!!


My "Remy" is beautiful brindle boxer, she actually going through the symptoms right now of a false pregnancy. She has become more protective over my daughter and my son towards other k9's. her teets are enlarged and she is lactating but this just started close to two weeks ago and her last heat was close to  two months ago.


@plurisbestia I agree with you whole heartily as it applies to people breeding just because they want some puppies. Some of us are breeding to preserve and enhance a particular breed. Each litter is planned to enhance the bloodline. So pull in your claws just a little. False pregnancy is a legitimate issue to legitimate breeders, so let's not condemn someone for sharing what they know.

marthasmith moderator

 @sexybabe I'm sorry to hear about your dog's difficulty. How sad! May I suggest submitting your question to our Ask a Vet column? One of our veterinarians might have some advice for you. You can ask your question here:

marthasmith moderator

 @Abbeysmommy I'm sorry to hear your Chihuahua is having such difficulty! Yes, it does sound like spaying her would resolve the issue, but I understand financial concerns can be an issue. Try checking out your local animal shelters and rescue groups. Oftentimes, they will know of low-cost spay/neuter programs to which they may be able to direct you. Good luck!


 @RNEGRETE i was so happy to hear that im not alone with this false pregnancy! I to have a boxer. Nakita turned 1 in April,and had her first heat about 2 months ago. Yesterday she started having the same signs as ur Remy, but not lactating yet but is wineing non stop,and carrying the same little rubber bone as if it were a baby,and even goes as far to clean it if touched... I luv her like if she were human but im so over this,and exhausted


  1. [...] vet said that “false pregnancy” can explain the increased whining, licking, eating change, and drinking change. When [...]

  2. [...] as some one told me on this site hormones are there for a reason. LOL.! Not having bitches, was having a look around re phantoms & found this. Hope it works. HOW TO Treat False Pregnancy in Dogs | Find A Vet [...]

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