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False pregnancy is a common problem in dogs. During the estrus or "heat" cycle, estrogen levels increase, the vulva swells and produces a bloody or straw-colored discharge, and the female dog or cat is inclined to accept a male for breeding.  Toward the end of the heat cycle, progesterone levels increase, preparing the uterus for an anticipated pregnancy.  Although no mating has occurred, female dogs and cats sometimes act like they're pregnant even when they're not.  This is called a false pregnancy.

False pregnancy is common in dogs but relatively rare in cats.  The mammary glands may enlarge and even drip milk, just as in a real pregnancy.  Some female dogs even behave as if they are having a litter, ie, they stop eating, build a nest, and cuddle up with small, inanimate objects.

Your veterinarian can determine if your dog is pregnant or not by palpating the abdomen and (possibly) taking an x-ray or ultrasound.  No treatment is required; false pregnancy usually goes away on its own in a few weeks.

Both real and false pregnancy can be prevented by having your female pets spayed.



What is the “heat cycle?”

The estrus or “heat” cycle is analogous to the menstrual cycle in women.  Bitches in heat produce a bloody or straw-colored discharge from a swollen vulva, and are inclined to accept a male for breeding. 

What is a false pregnancy?

Sometimes after heat, a bitch will act as if she is pregnant even when she is not.  During this false pregnancy, the mammary glands enlarge and may even drip milk, and the female may behave as if she is having a litter (eg, build a nest and cuddle up with small, inanimate objects).

How can I tell if the pregnancy is real or false?

Your veterinarian can confirm a real pregnancy through abdominal palpation or medical imaging (eg, X-rays).

Do spayed females have this problem?

No, spayed females will have neither heat periods nor false/real pregnancy.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM,MPH,PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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