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False pregnancy, phantom pregnancy, pseudo-pregnancy or pseudocyesis can be defined as a display of maternal behavior together with the physical signs of pregnancy following estrus (heat) in a non-pregnant bitch. The bitch may or may not have been mated.

Many bitches show signs of pseudo pregnancy. It usually begins 4-9 weeks after the previous heat period. The signs range from mammary development with or without the production of milk, lassitude, loss of appetite and sometimes vomiting. Signs can occur at any age and do not necessarily follow every estrus The severity of the clinical signs also varies between individuals and from one occurrence to the next within the same individual.

Behavioral changes include nesting, mothering activity, restlessness, disinclination to exercise and sometimes aggression due to a perceived threat to an impending family. The bitch is often off her food but surprisingly seldom appears to lose weight, probably due to the amount of excess fluid she is carrying.

The hormonal changes the bitch undergoes following estrus are similar whether she is pregnant or not. Changing levels in circulating hormones in the pregnant and pseudo pregnant animal are accentuated and the reason that this occurs in an animal that has not conceived is poorly understood.

Mild cases are frequently not treated by the veterinary surgeon and will subside of their own accord in approximately 14-21 days.

However in some cases where the bitch appears physically ill or the behavioral changes are of such magnitude as to cause concern, treatment has to be instituted. This can range from mild tranquilization and treatment with diuretics in order to reduce the milk production to hormonal treatment.

If the bitch is not to be used for breeding, ovariohysterectomy, (spaying or neutering), should be considered.

If neutering is carried out while the bitch is showing signs of pseudo pregnancy or alternatively has been receiving hormonal treatment the signs will often persist for several weeks despite the fact she has been neutered. Should this occur treatment with a single injection of an hormone will usually suffice to bring about improvement.

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