Can Dogs Have False Labor? How Can You Help?

Dogs can experience false labor if they are experiencing a false pregnancy. The best way to help your dog through false labor is to treat it like real labor. Keep your distance and provide a comfortable spot for your dog. As long as your dog does not get sick, you have nothing to worry about.

Is your female dog showing signs of labor even though she’s never mated? If so, your dog is likely undergoing the climax of a false pregnancy, also known as pseudo-pregnancy (or pseudocyesis). This is a common occurrence that is easily treated.

False Labor is the Result of False Pregnancy

Let’s start with the cause of the problem, false pregnancy. Female dogs have an estrus cycle in which their ovaries initiate the production of puppy-bearing hormones known as progesterone.

When the dog is actually pregnant, the level of the hormones will be maintained until the puppies are delivered. If she isn’t pregnant, these hormones will decrease over a 6-week period. On rare occasions, the hormone level will not decrease, even if the dog is not pregnant. This is when you get a false pregnancy in dogs.

Symptoms of False Pregnancy

The symptoms of false pregnancy are essentially the same as an actual pregnancy. The same internal hormonal mechanisms are at work whether or not the pregnancy is real. Here are the key symptoms that indicate pregnancy:

Mammary Development:

This is the development of a dog’s breasts in preparation for nursing puppies. When this happens, your dog’s nipples become more pronounced and visible.

Lactation:

The secretion of milk from your dog’s nipples in anticipation of nursing puppies.

Enlarged Abdomen:

Your dog’s stomach bloats past the normal contour of the abdomen. This is usually associated with increased fluid retention.

Loss of Appetite:

Your dog doesn’t eat or eats significantly less than usual.

Lethargy:

Complete or significant loss of energy and lack of activity from your dog. Frequent and prolonged sleeping can also be a sign of lethargy.

Vomiting:

Constant vomiting can be a sign of pregnancy. This can coincide with a lack of appetite.

Nesting:

If your dog is gathering blankets, pillows, and toys to make a nesting area, they are preparing to go into labor regardless of whether it’s a real pregnancy.

Protective Behavior:

Being overly protective of certain toys or other objects is a sign of maternal instincts kicking in.

Restlessness:

Your dog is constantly pacing around the house or generally refraining from sitting or laying down.

Aggression:

Abnormally aggressive behavior, especially toward people or animals that the dog is familiar with.

How to Determine if a Pregnancy is False

If your dog’s symptoms and behavior show signs of pregnancy, you should determine whether or not the pregnancy is false. If you intend to breed puppies and know that your dog has mated, you don’t need to worry about this.

However, if you don’t intend to breed and are unaware of any mating that may have occurred, you must determine whether or not the dog is, in fact, pregnant.

When you notice that your dog is undergoing pregnancy symptoms, take her to the vet and get some x-rays. If the vet confirms it is not a real pregnancy, there are some measures you can take next (more on that shortly).

If the symptoms aren’t too extreme and don’t seem to be harming your dog, you don’t need to pursue any treatment, as the symptoms will go away in a few weeks.

If the symptoms are primarily behavioral and mild, some remedies have been proven to help. Here are two treatments that you can perform on your dog at home without the help of a vet:

Distract the Dog:

If your dog’s symptoms aren’t too extreme, simply distracting the dog will suffice. Taking your dog out on longer and more frequent walks will usually do the trick. Playing with your dog could do the same. Keeping your dog active and their mind off of nursing is the simplest way to prevent symptoms of false pregnancy.

Remove Nesting Paraphernalia:

While your dog is producing nursing hormones, she will adopt “surrogate puppies” and make a nest.

The surrogates could include their favorite toys, familiar objects, or something as odd as your best pair of shoes! This could be an issue because your dog will become very protective of these objects.

The best way to stop this protective behavior is to remove the objects in a way that doesn’t cause distress. Distract your dog, then remove the objects. The less time you allow your dog to fixate on these objects, the easier it will be to break the habit.

If, however, the symptoms are causing significant distress to your dog and are negatively affecting her health, you will need some help. Here are three examples of treatment you should administer to your dog if the symptoms are intense:

Tranquilization: Tranquilizing your dog temporarily will relieve much of the anxiety they’re experiencing.

Hormonal Treatment: By reducing the level of progesterone or “pregnancy hormone” in your dog, you will limit the severity and length of your dog’s symptoms.

Sterilization: This is the most invasive measure. However, it is the most effective and will prevent any future occurrences of false pregnancy. This surgery should be done once all the symptoms have been relieved and the dog is back to normal. Pursue this option only if you never plan on breeding with the dog.

These treatments work better if you begin to implement them earlier in the false pregnancy. The dog’s psychological state plays a large role in false pregnancies, so mitigating the issue earlier by distracting your dog can be very effective. If your dog has been showing these symptoms for a few weeks, the behavioral treatment may not suffice, and you might want to look to hormonal treatments to get the job done.

It’s better to nip the problem in the bud from the beginning, but things happen. If the dog maintains a state of false pregnancy for 8-9 weeks, she will likely undergo false labor.

False Labor

After confirming that your dog is experiencing a false pregnancy, but she’s been doing so over several weeks, the next step in the sequence is false labor. As the natural period of a dog’s pregnancy ends, the progesterone hormone levels decline and stimulate the dog’s birthing process.

A dog can be in labor for anywhere between 10 to 36 hours.

Your dog will go through the normal delivery process, however with no puppies in the womb, nothing will come of it.

As long as your dog isn’t sick or unhealthy, this should not be dangerous. Just be sure to not stress the dog while it’s happening. The best way to go about this event is to treat it as if it’s a real birth.

What to Do While Your Dog is in False Labor

Here are the key factors you need to look out for while your dog is in labor. Remember that the goal at this point of the false pregnancy is to keep the dog calm and allow the natural process to end naturally. Here’s what you should do once you notice your dog undergoing false labor:

Keep Your Distance:

It’s best to keep your distance from your dog while she’s in labor, false or not. The dog’s instincts will take over and they will know what to do. Being too present in the dog’s space will distract the dog or cause stress, which will prolong the process.

Provide a Comfortable Area:

Allow your dog to create a nesting area. If your dog has been undergoing a false pregnancy for a few weeks, she likely has already set up her nest area. At this point, the best thing to do is leave the nest alone so your dog feels as comfortable as possible.

Remove Stress and Distractions:

Don’t allow anything near the dog that will cause stress or take its attention. This includes other animals in the house, loud noises, children, or any kind of significant stimulation. Keep noise to a minimum. Dogs are capable of halting the labor process if they feel threatened. Once again, this will only prolong the false labor session and threaten the dog’s health.

Tend to Their Needs:

Labor, real or false, is a long process. Make sure your dog stays comfortable and hydrated during the process. Preferably, have her most trusted person in the family tend to her needs.

After the dog has undergone false labor for about 10-36 hours, eventually, she will finish and go to sleep. The hormonal process in her body is completed, and the hormones will soon return to normal levels. There may be a brief phase of protective behavior afterward, but you should notice your dog’s behavior return to normal.

Protecting Your Dog is First Priority

In review, the best way to remedy a false pregnancy is to combat the behavior early. If you can’t do that, consult your veterinarian, or let nature run its course.

At the end of the day, protecting your dog’s health is the first priority. False pregnancies are rare, but they do happen. Generally, they aren’t dangerous, but you need to be very careful about how you treat your dog when something is wrong with their health.

Remember that your dog can’t tell you what’s wrong with them, so you have to do your best as their caretaker to determine the problem and keep them happy and healthy.

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