When female dogs that are not pregnant lactate, they are going through what is called a false pregnancy. The clinical term for this is pseudocyesis. Vet Info states it is common for dogs to experience false pregnancies. Owners of spayed dogs need not worry, as it only affects unspayed female dogs after their latest heat cycle. Pet Place states the symptoms of false pregnancies usually begin to occur six to 12 weeks after the heat cycle.
Pet Education says the cause of false pregnancy is incorrect hormonal stimulation. False pregnancies can occur both if the dog has mated and if the dog has not mated. After the heat cycle is over, the hormone levels should return to normal and the dog ends her heat cycle. In a false pregnancy, hormone levels remain high for an extended period, which could be over 70 days, according to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. These hormone levels trick the dog's body into thinking that she is pregnant, but without the puppies present.
Symptoms are similar to signs of pregnancy in a dog. These include nesting, mothering objects, lactating and mammary gland enlargement. The Mar Vista Animal Medical Center states that the dog can even go into a false labour. Pet Place cautions that if vaginal discharge or depression occurs, it is imperative to consult a veterinarian, as these could be symptoms of a uterine infection which is life-threatening.
Diagnosis involves a thorough physical examination by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will first try to feel for puppies via abdominal palpation. Extremely young puppies can be hard to feel, states Pet Place, so X-rays may be necessary to rule out a real pregnancy or infections. The vet may also conduct ultrasounds if she suspects a real pregnancy. Other tests may include blood count, thyroid level and biochemistry profile.
Most cases of false pregnancy are mild and do not require further medical care. Normally, female dogs will go through the process within three weeks, states the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. For more serious cases, a vet may prescribe diuretics and hormones that inhibit milk production. Spaying should wait until the false pregnancy is over as it could lead to a prolonged false pregnancy.
At home care involves preventing stimulation of the mammary glands as much as possible. Stimulation, states Pet Place, can actually lead to the glands becoming inflamed as well as increasing milk production. If needed, put an an Elizabethan collar on the dog to prevent her from licking herself, recommends the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. Compresses and mammary wraps are not recommended as these will stimulate the mammary glands even more.