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False pregnancy (Pseudopregnancy/Pseudocyesis)

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Several months following a season, some entire female dogs and cats undergo some physiological changes that mimic pregnancy. This is frequently referred to as a false pregnancy, pseudopregnancy or pseudocyesis. Although this is typically not a harmful disorder in animals, it can be stressful for the owner and disturbing for the animal. Usually, the disease goes away on its own without any treatment, but neutering the pet is a good idea if breeding is not the plan.

What is a false pregnancy (Pseudopregnancy)?

 

Pseudopregnancy, also known as pseudocyesis, occurs when a female dog or cat that has not been neutered or spayed and had a season (oestrous or heat) still exhibits clinical symptoms of pregnancy even though the bitch or queen is not actually carrying a baby. Regardless of whether they are pregnant or not, all females experience the same hormonal changes. Pseudopregnancy is further divided into two categories: overt, which is the clinical state, and covert, which is the physiological condition that occurs normally. Pseudopregnancy can also happen after spaying, especially if the bitches are neutered during the dioestrous period. In females that have more than one oestrous cycle within one breeding season, dioestrous refers to the interval of sexual inactivity between phases of oestrous.

A female beagle on heat

The female is no longer responsive to the male during this phase, and it is the stage after oestrous. This phase takes about two months. During this period, progesterone peaks 3 to 4 weeks after the onset of dioestrous and subsequently drops to baseline levels by the end of dioestrous, while oestrogen levels are low.


However, pseudopregnancy is more frequently seen in entire females. Veterinarians are less likely to recognize pseudopregnancy in a spayed bitch unless the connection between spaying and the development of clinical


symptoms are very evident. It is one of the reasons why some bitches become more reactive and/or aggressive after being spayed.







What are the clinical signs of false pregnancy?

 

Pseudopregnancy in bitches and queens is characterized by a variety of physical and behavioural abnormalities that typically manifest six to eight weeks following oestrous and has physiological and behavioural repercussions. False pregnancy symptoms typically appear two to three months following the previous season. Clinical symptoms in affected dogs may include enlarging mammary glands and/or milk production, weight gain, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Maternal behaviours such as aggression in resource defence, increased or decreased activity, nesting behaviour, and collecting or mothering objects are just a few examples of behavioural signals. While some animal indications are pretty subtle, others can be quite striking. After the first season, false pregnancy symptoms may appear, and they often get more pronounced with each heat cycle. The behavioural and physical symptoms can sometimes be marked, but it can be very difficult to know whether a female is actually pregnant or is having a false pregnancy. It is always better to visit a veterinarian for confirmation.

What needs to be done in a false pregnancy?

 

False pregnancy is generally not a serious condition, so you shouldn't worry too much about it. Most females are healthy throughout. The affected pet should be treated normally and her abnormal behaviour should not be rewarded. All toys should be taken away if she demonstrates a preference for them and seeks to protect them for several weeks. Encourage her to carry out her regular activities and try to divert her attention from any odd behaviour with more engaging activities like play.

A veterinarian should examine the female if the mammary glands start to grow and she begins to give milk. Most of the time, milk production stops on its own without any help, although some females lick themselves to increase milk production. This can be painful, and she also runs the risk of getting a mastitis infection.

Additionally, if the suspected female goes longer than 24 hours without food, if she has unusual discharge coming from her nipples or vulva, or if she otherwise exhibits symptoms of illness, a veterinarian should be consulted. These could be precursors to the development of more serious issues.


What is the treatment for false pregnancy?

 

Females with mild symptoms might not require therapy. The majority of the time, the symptoms go away on their own as the cycle continues and the hormone levels change. In some situations, the signs might need to be calmed more quickly particularly when behavioural changes are quite noticeable or a lot of milk is being produced.

Numerous medications are available that could shorten the time the symptoms last, but they rarely solve the issues immediately. Numerous medications, such as cabergoline, bromocriptine, megestrol acetate, or testosterone, are hormones that can be used to increase or decrease hormone levels or cease milk production. These medications should only be used as a last resort or if symptoms are causing serious problems because they occasionally have serious side effects.

Neutering the female is the best method for preventing false pregnancies. Preventing more seasons will stop the issue from recurring. However, it's crucial to wait until the symptoms go away before the pet is neutered if it has a false pregnancy. While she is still producing milk, the surgery should not be performed because it may then be very challenging to stop this.

Once a female has experienced a false pregnancy, she is more likely to experience it again during every oestrous, and the symptoms may persist for several weeks. Drug therapy can be beneficial during a false pregnancy, but spaying the animal after it has given birth is the best option. 


References

 

Root, A. L., Parkin, T. D., Hutchison, P., Warnes, C., & Yam, P. S. (2018). Canine pseudopregnancy: an evaluation of prevalence and current treatment protocols in the UK. BMC veterinary research, 14(1), 170. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-018-1493-1


BAŞTAN, A., Findik, M., Erunal, N., Aslan, S., & Kilicoglu, C. (1998). The use of cabergoline for treatment of pseudopregnancy in dogs with the purpose of suppressing lactation. Reproduction in Domestic Animals, 33(2).


ALLEN, W. E. (1986). Pseudopregnancy in the bitch: the current view on aetiology and treatment. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 27(7), 419-424.


England, G. C. (1998). Complications of treating presumed pseudopregnancy in pregnant bitches. The Veterinary Record, 142(14), 369-371.


Lee, W. M., Kooistra, H. S., Mol, J. A., Dieleman, S. J., & Schaefers-Okkens, A. C. (2006). Ovariectomy during the luteal phase influences secretion of prolactin, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor-I in the bitch. Theriogenology, 66(2), 484-490.


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