Phantom pregnancy in dogs: treatment of pseudopregnancy-associated mastitis

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Phantom pregnancy in dogs: treatment of pseudopregnancy-associated mastitis

Phantom pregnancy in dogs, also known as pseudopregnancy or false pregnancy, is when they display the clinical signs of a real pregnancy (they may even lactate) without the female actually being pregnant.

Veterinary medicine and care

Phantom pregnancy in dogs: when does it occur?

Phantom pregnancy in dogs tends to occur about 6 to 8 weeks after oestrus, even if the female hasn’t been mounted by a male. Females believe they are pregnant due to the activity of hormones produced in their ovaries.

If a phantom pregnancy in a dog is suspected, the first thing to do is check that the female is not actually pregnant. The best way of doing this is to consult a vet.  After ruling out a genuine pregnancy, we are now looking at a case of pseudopregnancy.

What happens during a phantom pregnancy in dogs?

The first observable sign of phantom pregnancy in dogs is milk let-down, which is known as false lactation. Progesterone and oestradiol levels increase to the same extent as they would in the event of a real pregnancy.

The clinical signs generally disappear within 10 days and the female dog returns to normal without any major physical consequences. A minority of cases present problems, either due to behavioural changes in the patient or excessive milk production.

One of the most striking changes in their behaviour is that they act as if they have already had puppies. They adopt dolls or rags and take care of them as if they were their offspring. They seem more tired and disturbed. Dogs with pseudopregnancy wander around the house without a specific destination or may try to hide.

Recommendations for phantom pregnancy in dogs

Female dogs experiencing a phantom pregnancy must be discouraged from licking their breasts to secrete milk, as this behaviour also stimulates further milk production. The breast milk can be dried up by indicating a 24‑hour full fast, followed by a liquid diet for the next 48 hours.

Females with pseudopregnancy need to be distracted with other activities, such as plenty of long walks. It is also a good idea to remove any adopted dolls while the dog is out for a walk. Additionally, a handful of fresh parsley given with food inhibits the effects of progesterone.

Treatment of pseudopregnancy-associated mastitis

If the patient’s breasts are inflamed, a problem called mastitis, then treatment must be initiated. This can range from antibiotic therapy to surgery.

Cabergoline can be given for 10–14 days at 5 µg/kg a day.

Mastitis has a favourable prognosis in most cases.

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