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False pregnancy in female dogs

If your female dog becomes depressed or behaves strangely, there is a high risk that she has suffered a false pregnancy. It is estimated that 40 percent of all bitches become falsely pregnant. During a false pregnancy, your dog believes that she will have puppies and exhibits both physical and psychological symptoms.
Close up of a dog sleeping peacefully

False pregnancy is not a disease, but is the female's hormonal readiness to give birth and care for puppies. Immediately after the bitch's heat (estrus) ends, metoestrus begins, a period corresponding to the length of the gestation period. This period occurs whether the female is mated or not. Even if you do not mate your bitch, she can therefore have symptoms of pregnancy, false pregnancy.

Why does the bitch get falsely pregnant?

Why does the dog actually become falsely pregnant? For today's dog, feigned pregnancy does not fulfil any function, but usually causes trouble instead. In the wolf pack, however, the mock pregnancy has an important function. Among the wolves, only the leader of the pack is allowed to give birth to puppies. It is assumed that it works this way because the herd becomes the strongest if only the genes from the healthiest and strongest animals are passed on.

If something should happen to the leader of the herd so that she cannot take care of her puppies herself, one of the other falsely pregnant dogs should be able to step in to look after them. In this way, it is ensured that the predisposition of the leadership is passed on to the next generation.

How is the female affected by  false pregnancy?

The visible signs of false pregnancy usually appear one to two months after calving. Physically, the dog can gain weight and get swollen around the abdomen. She may get udder swelling and form milk or a thin secretion in the udder. Eating disorders also occur. Often the bitch does not want to eat at all for a period and then it is of course important that you make sure that she gets water in any case. Some bitches instead get an increased appetite.

The dog's behaviour can also be affected. She may be generally nervous, lethargic or anxious, or start bedding and making 'nests'. She may also adopt some stuffed toys, or even shoes, as her cubs. Sometimes an increase in aggressiveness is also seen.

Most bitches that become pseudo pregnant mainly get the physical signs and maybe become a little generally depressed during the period.

How long does a false pregnancy last?

A false pregnancy usually lasts for several weeks. It can be a problem for both the dog and the dog owner. In addition to the dog being depressed, the bitch can also have physical problems. Sometimes they stimulate milk production by washing and sometimes pinching their udder. Milk production can cause changes in the mammary glands. With a bit of bad luck, it can also lead to the bitch getting mastitis. They may also vomit during this period.

Each female dog can react in different ways during the mock pregnancy. Some show all possible symptoms while others only show one or a couple. It is more common for a bitch to show psychological than physical symptoms.

How can I help a falsely pregnant bitch?

To prevent the symptoms from appearing, you can increase the dog's exercise while cutting back on the food. Considering that many bitches are very reluctant to exercise during the mock pregnancy and that some get an increased appetite, it can be quite a challenging task. It can both be difficult in practical terms and also feel a bit rubbish for the dog.

Increasing the bitch's mental stimulation and activity is good during mock pregnancy.

Medicine against false pregnancy

There is also a prescription medicine, Galastop, that you can get from your vet that counteracts false pregnancy. This is recommended if your bitch is significantly affected by the false pregnancy.

The active substance in Galastop is cabergoline, which long-term inhibits milk production and also affects symptoms associated with milk production. Side effects of the medication can be temporary lethargy and the dog not wanting to eat. When taking medication with Galastop, the next run will also be slightly earlier. For those bitches who suffer from serious problems, these side effects are outweighed by the fact that the bitch has the opportunity to get back on track after the false pregnancy and become her usual pleasant self again. If there is the slightest doubt as to whether the bitch has actually been mated during heat, pregnancy should be ruled out (for example by ultrasound or x-ray) before the medication is started, as it can cause abortion in pregnant animals.

When your bitch is falsely pregnant, think about trying to keep her busy and give her extra attention. It may very well be that the bitch is going through a difficult period and then she needs to "dispel her thoughts" and feel a little extra cherished and appreciated.

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