Phantom pregnancy, or canine pseudopregnancy, produces physical and behavioural signs of pregnancy when the dog is not actually pregnant. The condition results from hormone changes that occur after the dog's heat cycle, but it usually resolves itself within two to four weeks. Veterinarian treatment is sometimes necessary, though, because complications such as mastitis can arise and some dogs will exhibit intolerable behaviours, such as aggression. Monitor her behaviours and intervene as necessary to manage symptoms, but consult a veterinarian for treatment if you have any concerns, if symptoms persist for more than four weeks or if complications arise.
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- Elizabethan collar or T-shirt
Discourage the dog from self-nursing or licking her abdomen because this behaviour stimulates the mammary glands and prolongs lactation. Place an Elizabethan collar around her neck or dress her in a T-shirt to block her mouth's access to the abdomen, as recommended by Jennifer Larsen, MS, of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Remove any toys and inanimate objects from her that she "mothers"" and stop her from creating nests. If she gathers your socks and guards them as if they were her puppies or if she gathers or shreds clothing and blankets for a nesting area, say "No" and take the items from her.
Contact your veterinarian if symptoms persist or if she exhibits mammary gland inflammation, foul-smelling and cloudy vaginal discharge, lethargy, depression, intolerable behaviours or any signs of physical illness.
Follow false pregnancy treatment recommendations from your veterinarian, which may include sedation or use of light tranquillisers, prolactin-suppressing drugs, steroids, diuretics or hormone therapy.
Reduce her food intake and overnight water intake if advised to do so by your veterinarian. This decreases milk production, but Mar Vista Animal Medical Center warns that water deprivation is potentially dangerous.
Schedule a spaying appointment with the veterinarian after symptoms subside. Spaying prevents recurring false pregnancy, but spaying her during the false pregnancy will not resolve the symptoms.
Tips and warnings
- Consider the possibility that the symptoms stem from an actual pregnancy if your dog encountered an intact male during her heat cycle; a veterinarian will confirm or deny the pregnancy.
- Consult a trainer or veterinarian if you are unable to manage behavioural changes safely and effectively.
- Avoid contact with your dog's abdomen; petting or warm compresses will stimulate her and encourage lactation.
- Signs of illness during phantom pregnancy may indicate uterine infection, which is life threatening if untreated. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog presents any signs of illness.
- Prolonged symptoms may indicate liver dysfunction or hypothyroidism.
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