A female dog may experience a false pregnancy, exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of a genuine pregnancy, but with no puppies present. The condition typically occurs six to 12 weeks after the dog's last heat cycle. Distinguishing a false pregnancy from a real one can be difficult. Many of the signs are the same. An owner may find herself sitting by her dog, waiting for puppies to arrive, only to discover that her dog isn't pregnant at all.
One of the most obvious changes brought on by a false pregnancy will be the presence of milk. This is a very common symptom. A dog will develop enlarged mammary glands as the time gets closer to when her phantom litter is due. She may actually gain weight and develop a rounded, full look as well, simulating how she would look if she actually were pregnant.
A dog undergoing a false pregnancy will often exhibit nesting behaviour. She will dig holes, tear up papers, pull at blankets and towels, rearrange her bed or make a nest in a quiet place in the house. At times she may seem almost frantic to get a nest made, as though she needs to be ready for her puppies' arrival.
A dog may start to collect seemingly random items from around the house or yard and bring them to her nest or keep them close to her. It is not uncommon for her to want to take care of her toys, shoes, children's soft toys, or other odds and ends she finds around the house.
A dog may seem to be mildly ill when she is having a false pregnancy. In addition to gaining weight and having swollen mammary glands, she may seem more tired than usual, and she may have a slight vaginal discharge.
Many of the signs of a false pregnancy can also be signs of other problems, such as a vaginal or uterine infection. If she seems to get depressed or lethargic, stops eating, has a fever or has a foul-smelling or excessive vaginal discharge, a veterinarian should be consulted.