False Pregnancy in Dogs
Maturity is occurring at an earlier age in our domestic dogs because of selective breeding. Additionally, domestic bitches (except African breeds) have twice as many seasons as wild wolves. This article discusses the physiology of pregnancy and false pregnancy (pseudocyesis), and ways of helping bitches with false pregnancies.
The Oestrus Cycle
Bitches' seasons occur every 8-9 months. During proestrus they will have a blood stained discharge and show an interest in males. In the second phase, Oestrus, ovulation occurs, and the female is most fertile. The next phase, dioestrus, is when the bitch is hormonally pregnant. The corpus luteum, formed at ovulation in the ovary, matures and produces female hormones. These then stimulate prolactin secretion from the anterior lobe of the pituitary, which stimulates milk production in the mammary glands.
The hormonal cycle of the bitch assumes that pregnancy has occurred after every cycle, whether or not mating has taken place. She will, therefore, experience the physiological changes of pregnancy over the next 2 months. She will have an increase in progesterone production, milk production and an increase in appetite. She may even go into mild labour.
The caregiver may notice physical and emotional changes, particularly 8-9 weeks after her last season. She may exhibit a change in preferred diet to blander food, fluid retention, and a wish not to take her usual amount of exercise, and she may hoard toys and treat them as puppies.
There may be restlessness, feel lack of appetite, there will be panting, trembling, whining and nest-building at the time she would have given birth. She may be slightly more aggressive than usual. Things will usually return to normal after 2-3 weeks, equivalent to 48hrs after the birth would have occurred.
How we can help
As this is a physiological occurrence which settles over 2-3 weeks, treatment is rarely needed. If possible try to reduce stimulation of the mammary glands, by reducing stroking and wiping, and not allowing the bitch to lick excessively, as these will increase prolactin release and further milk production.
Occasionally the bitch may become ill, by producing excessive milk, or other problems. She may need treatment to reduce milk production, such as diuretics or hormone treatment. Although some advocate reduced fluid intake to induce dehydration and reduce milk production, others feel that this may be unsafe.
It is rare (but not unknown) for bitches who are spayed (ovariohysterectomised), to exhibit these changes. Although the majority of the hormones are being produced by the ovaries, some are produced in the adrenal glands.
Pulsatilla from health food shops or Homeopathy stores has been used with good effect. It can also be used just after a season in a bitch with a history of false pregnancies.
Spiritual healing and Reiki can help the dog accept and work with its hormonal state, and help restore self-healing and homeostasis. It can be supplemented with crystals such as chrysophase, moonstone and blue lace agate.
Aromatics that may prove useful include rose, fennel (to dry up lactation) and vanilla. Of the Bach's flower remedies, vine, chicory, red chestnut & mustard may be helpful.
In this article, I have discussed the physiology of false pregnancy, and suggested ways in which we can help bitches to cope with the pressures involved. Surprisingly, spaying does not necessarily prevent recurrent false pregnancies. Fundamentally, false pregnancy is a natural occurrence in bitches, and usually needs no treatment.
Alison Grimston is a holistic doctor and animal healer with a website The Naturally Healthy Pet that helps to inform the public about complementary animal therapies while connecting animal therapists worldwide.