If you have an unspayed female dog in the family, there’s a chance she could have a phantom pregnancy one day.
Expert dog behaviourist Philippa Short shares what you need to know about recognising, treating, and preventing this common condition.
Before we delve into the details of phantom pregnancy, let’s have a quick rundown of your dog’s hormones and how they work.
When your female pup comes into season:
Phantom pregnancy is a condition where your dog feels and acts pregnant without actually being pregnant. It’s also known as a phantom or pseudo pregnancy.
In the wild, phantom pregnancies help female dogs to share the load of child rearing and allows them to wet nurse each other’s young. So if a mother was killed, the rest of the family unit can care for her litter.
Phantom pregnancies often happen six to 12 weeks after a dog’s heat season. This can range from three to 14 weeks depending on the individual pup.
Breeds that are more prone to phantom pregnancies include:
Your girl absolutely believes she is pregnant, so the physical symptoms of phantom pregnancy are very similar to those of a normal dog pregnancy:
Once again, phantom pregnancy behaviour is very similar to that of a real dog pregnancy:
A phantom pregnancy diagnosis comes from a vet. Blood tests which check your dog’s prolactin levels are unreliable, so your vet will try an ultrasound instead.
They also use the ultrasound to scan her uterus for pyometra, as this can be mistaken for phantom pregnancy.
Signs of pyometra include:
Your vet will ask about your girl’s seasonal history to know if she’s been mated.
There’s two ways you can treat your dog’s phantom pregnancy – either letting her work through it naturally or using medication.
If you choose the conservative option of letting her work through it naturally, you’ll still need to give a bit of a helping hand.
You’ll need to take your pup to the vet if you’d like to try medication. They’ll check her over and give her something to help get her through her phantom pregnancy. Your vet may also recommend some diet restrictions to help with stopping milk production.
Not using medication puts your pup at a higher risk of getting mastitis, which can be very painful.
Dogs who have one phantom pregnancy are likely to get them frequently.
The ultimate way to prevent phantom pregnancy is via full spaying (known as an ovariohysterectomy).
But if for any reason you don’t want to spay your girl, there’s natural ways to help prevent phantom pregnancy or ease symptoms. These include:
Always go to a qualified expert (such as a holistic vet or animal herbalist) before trying any natural remedies.
It’s also important to remember that this approach doesn’t work for every dog. It may prevent phantom pregnancy for some and only ease symptoms for others.
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