False pregnancy in dogs

Unspayed dogs go into heat approximately once every 6 months

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.


Related Posts


  1. Really interesting read considering we’re about to get our dog fixed. Thanks for the information!

  2. Excellent info. This is another great resource on canine pregnancy (just in case it isn’t a false alarm). It covers symptoms and has time lines so you know what to expect! http://www.pet-comfort-products.com/dog-pregnancy.html

  3. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 27, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks Jackie for this great website and information for animal guardians. Great to share with us. Thank you.

  4. You have very nice information about dogs. It seems you have a lot knowledge about dog pregnancy. Great work Dear.

  5. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianApril 11, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you very much for your kind compliments. I am very happy and proud to provide this service to animal guardians as well as answer their questions for 1800petmeds.

  6. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 31, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you for your kind comments. Please let your family and friends know about all of the wonderful blogs we try and provide on common pet health issues.

  7. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJune 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    You are very welcome. Glad to provide this wonderful service to animal guardians.

  8. Thanks for those informative info you shared with us. I love your blog!

  9. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianOctober 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    You ar very welcome. Glad I can help

  10. I didn’t know that dogs experience false pregnancy, but at least now I do and I’m going to call my sister to inform her about this.

    Because I thought I heard her complain about her female dog pet behavior last week.

    Nice post by the way!

  11. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 13, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Thank you very much. The false pregnancy can last up to a few weeks with swollen mammary glands and even milk in them and changes in behavior i.e nesting, etc

  12. My dog currently is experiencing a false pregnancy. She is 31/2 year old bichon and meets the criteria you set forth in your article. She also is drinking excessively and not eating. I would like to get her spayed as soon as possible but I have some concerns such as, should she be spayed while she is going through this false pregnancy? Or should I wait for this to be over and then get her spayed? The dog is currently is visiting with my parents in another state. They took her to a local vet who wants to spay the dog immediately. I’m not comfortable with the assessment. The dog will be back with me at the end of April. In the interim my parents are having a tough time with her.

  13. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    I would wait until false preganancy is over and then have her spayed.

  14. Pingback: Pregnant Dogs Signs and Care Tips | The Biggest Dog


  16. Would like to know if the female is bred, and locks during her heat, and still has a false pregnancy, is there any chance it is a male issue that there are no pups? I know in our case the male has been successful with all other breeding attempts. ….Or is it the no egg to fertilize issue?

  17. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Could be a male problem. Would need to have sperm counts evaluated by vet specialist.

  18. The male in this false preg case has successfully produced 18 pups in 3 other litters, and was successful with every “lock” he has made with other females. A problem with him is doubtful.

  19. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for additional information.

  20. I have a question, would this be hereditary, or in the bloodline and passed to daughters? Thanks.

  21. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 10, 2013 at 2:52 am

    Not sure of your question and what you are referring to.

  22. I had a female and every other time I bred her she had a false, now her daughter seems to be doing the same thing. Would it be in the dogs genetics to be passed down from the mom? Thanks.

  23. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    False pregnancy is a normal hormonal phenomenon seen in many dogs. Not really inherited but a normal part of their physiology.

  24. my grandchild has a blue healer who is pregrent with unwanted puppys. what can be done?

  25. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJune 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Best option is to have her spayed if not too far along.

  26. Was not that much aware about the false pregnancy in dogs before, you provided very useful information to know it better for my pet.

Leave a Comment