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Psychological pregnancy in dogs: causes and treatment

The hormonal changes after each heat are responsible for the phantom pregnancy in bitches; why these hormonal changes occur in non-pregnant females remains a mystery.

Psychological pregnancy in dogs, also known as phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis, is a more common condition than we think. It refers to a demonstration of maternal behavior combined with physical signs of pregnancy after estrus in a bitch who is not pregnant. 

False pregnancy can occur, regardless of whether or not the bitch is matched. Most females will show some signs of false pregnancy after a heat cycle. However, if a false pregnancy is suspected, consult your vet. 

Signs of Psychological Pregnancy in Dogs 

Symptoms of psychological pregnancy in dogs begin four to nine weeks after the previous heat period. These signs mimic the symptoms of a real pregnancy. The most common include enlarged mammary glands, with or without milk production. 

Lethargy, frequent vomiting, and fluid retention are also common in female sufferers. Often, the animal decreases its appetite but rarely appears to lose weight. This is probably due to the amount of excess fluid it retains.

These symptoms can occur at any age and do not necessarily follow in all Astros. The severity of the clinical signs varies from case to case and may be different from cycle to cycle in the same bitch.

Some behavioral changes in psychological pregnancy in dogs include nesting, maternal activity, and restlessness. There may also be a decrease in physical activity, and sometimes bitches may become aggressive.

In some cases, the affected female will show signs of false labor and then protect toys or other small objects. This is due to the maternal instinct that develops after the false birth. And, after a lack of puppies, she uses any inanimate object.

Causes of Phantom Pregnancy

After the bitch has an estrus cycle, her ovaries begin to produce hormones, regardless of whether she is pregnant or not. These hormones prepare the uterus to receive fetuses and maintain pregnancy.

If the bitch is pregnant, the hormones will continue to be produced until shortly before the puppies are born. If she is not pregnant, hormone levels begin to decrease after 4-6 weeks.

In the early stages, increased levels of circulating hormones cause changes that mimic pregnancy. As hormone levels decrease in the non-pregnant female, signals are sent to the body that stimulates false labor and the development of the mammary gland.

How Psychological Pregnancy is Treated in Dogs

Mild cases of false pregnancy do not require treatment. Symptoms will go away in about 20 days. If the bitch appears to be physically ill, or the behavior changes are severe enough to cause concern, treatment is indicated.

Treatment is symptomatic and may include calmness to relieve anxiety. Diuretics will be recommended to reduce milk production or ease fluid retention. In rare cases, hormonal therapy may be recommended.

If the female will not be used for reproduction, ovariohysterectomy is recommended to prevent future episodes. Ideally, this surgical sterilization should be performed after all symptoms have resolved.

If it is surgically sterilized while experiencing signs of pseudoscience, symptoms may continue for several weeks, although it has been cleaned.

Final Recommendations

To reduce secretions from the mammary gland, your vet may advise you to use hot or cold compresses. This serves to minimize the stimulation that promotes lactation.

An Elizabethan necklace (cone) can also help prevent breastfeeding behavior that may stimulate lactation. In some animals, reducing daily intake of certain foods may help reduce milk production.

It also works to distract bitches with other activities such as taking them for walks more regularly than usual. It’s a good idea to take advantage of outings to remove the dolls you’ve adopted.

A handful of fresh parsley given with meals inhibits the effects of progesterone. If mastitis exists -inflammation of the mammary glands- it is advisable to consult with the veterinarian to treat it appropriately.

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