False pregnancy in dogs
One of the most interesting behavior patterns seen in unspayed female dogs is when they go through what is known as false pregnancy. Normally dogs go into season (called “in heat” in dogs) and are fertile on average once every 6 months, where the vulva swells and there is often a bloody vaginal discharge. This period of a female dog or bitch’s cycle is called estrus, where they are actually receptive to the male dog or artificial insemination, and can become pregnant.
The first estrus cycle is usually seen somewhere between 9 and 12 months of age on average. This period of bleeding can last anywhere from 1-3 weeks, and varies in intensity from little to profuse bleeding depending upon hormonal levels and other health parameters in the individual bitch. However, either vaginal smears or hormonal testing done at your local veterinarian is often needed to precisely determine whether a bleeding female dog is actually fertile, and more likely to conceive when bred.
If a dog in heat is not bred or does not become pregnant, then approximately one to two months later, many female dogs will go into a period known as false pregnancy of dogs, or pseudo pregnancy. Because of the rise in progesterone levels at the time of a bitch’s cycle, she will often show many behavioral signs of being pregnant, including nesting behavior and gathering of materials in preparation of a presumed delivery of puppies their body is sensing, as well as even the development of the mammary glands and even milk production at this time, as if they would be preparing to nurse a new litter of puppies. Such a time can be quite stressful on an intact female dog, as these physical and emotional changes are actually in response to hormonal changes associated as if she was actually pregnant, but in fact she is not.
That is when I like to give these dogs natural supplements to help minimize the stress associated with either the heat period or false pregnancy such as Be Serene or Composure Liquid from 1800PetMeds. Both are very effective together in calming many emotionally stressed pets. I have not found the Super Stress Relief or HomeoPet Anxiety formulas helpful in most cases. Of course the best treatment of minimizing this stressful time on your pets is to get them spayed 30 days after they come out of their bleeding or heat cycle to not only avoid unwanted pregnancies and contributing to the pet overpopulation problem, but also in hopefully preventing future health problems, such as mammary cancer or a life threatening uterine infection called a pyometra. However, some newer data is showing that there are some health benefits in waiting to spay or neuter your pet until 10-12 months of age, due to potential effects on reducing certain orthopedic problems and even certain kinds of cancers later in life, particularly common in larger or giant breed dogs.
However, if the decision is made to wait to spay a dog until they are this age, and they do go through a heat period, than it is very important for the animal guardian to insure no access to male dogs, so as to avoid unwanted breeding and pregnancies. It is also not a good idea to vaccinate dogs when they are in heat, or when they are going through hormonal changes or stresses, as this leads to an increased risk of vaccine reactions and potentially future autoimmune diseases. If at any time an intact female dog shows signs of purulent or foul vaginal discharge with pus, and is acting sick, then an immediate veterinary exam and evaluation is necessary to make sure that a pyometra and uterine infection is not present. This is because in those circumstances, immediate emergency medical stabilization and surgical ovariohysterectomy or spaying is needed to avoid severe medical complications, including potential fatalities.