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01 July

Phantom pregnancy in dogs

author image Edeline Bourrier Edeline Bourrier
Phantom pregnancy in dogs image

Phantom pregnancy, or pseudopregnancy can affect all mammals and is common in female dogs (bitches).

1. The female dogs reproductive cycle

As soon as a bitch is sexually mature (between 6 and 24  months depending on the breed), a four step cycle is in place:

  • Pro-oestrus: the beginning of the heat, the bitch refuses to mate (on average 10 days, can vary from 3 to 17 days)
  • Oestrus: the bitch is in heat and will mate (on average 10 days, can vary from 3 to 21 days)
  • Metestrus / dioestrus: heat is over (on average 2 months). If fertilisation occurred, the bitch becomes pregnant. For non-expecting bitches, phantom pregnancy occurs straight after this period.
  • Anoestrus: the bitch is getting ready for the next cycle (on average 5 month, can vary from 2 to 9 months).


2. What is causing phantom pregnancy?

As discussed above, the reproductive cycle of the female dog is composed of 4 phases. After the dioestrus stage, whether the bitch is pregnant or not, the level of progesterone decreases and the level of prolactin, the lactation hormone, increases.

The faster the drop in progesterone levels, the higher the risks of phantom pregnancy.

At this point, non-spayed bitches can show signs of phantom pregnancy. It is worth keeping in mind that if the bitch was spayed just after ovulation, during the heat, there is a risk of phantom pregnancy as the progesterone levels will drop quickly.

 

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3. What are the symptoms of a phantom pregnancy?

For two weeks, the visible symptoms of a phantom pregnancy are:

  • Swelling and licking of the teats, possibly lactation
  • Signs of whelping: licking of the vulva, spasms and even contractions
  • Changes in appetite, the bitch may refuse to eat or on the contrary starts eating more than usual
  • Nesting behaviour in a quiet corner where she’ll pile cushions and blankets
  • Protection and/or adoption of an objects, as if it was a puppy
  • Behavioural changes: protective, anxious, aggressive, lethargic

4. What are the risks associated with phantom pregnancy?

  • Mastitis: as milk stagnates in the teat bacteria can proliferate. Caught in time, a course of antibiotics will clear the infection quickly. More serious cases can lead to the whole mammary gland being taken out.
  • Pyometra: the mucus build-up in the uterus linked to hormonal changes can promote bacterial growth. Spaying will often be the recommended course of action.
  • Mammary cancer: Spaying can help reduce the risk of cancer significantly.

5. What are the treatments against phantom pregnancy? 

During this period, your bitch may suffer physically as well as psychologically.

First of all, a vet examination can help determine if your bitch is in fact pregnant. Depending on the results, they can prescribe a prolactin inhibitor. If your bitch shows signs of phantom pregnancy regularly, they may offer spaying to support the health and well-being of your dog.

Your herbalist would often recommend Vitex Agnus Castus as this is traditionally used to support the hormonal system and is recommended for a bitch suffering from phantom pregnancies. Raspberry leaf can help support uterine health.

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Edeline Bourrier

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