By Jocelynn Jacobs, DVM, CVC, BSC

Your bitch was in heat about 6 weeks ago, and was not bred (to your knowledge). However, she is acting pregnant – carrying around stuff animals, nesting in the corners of your family room, and exhibiting other maternal behaviors. You roll her over on her back and notice she has mammary development and even a little milk is coming from the nipples. What is going on? Is she pregnant or is it a false pregnancy? Did she get bred on accident by one of your males when you weren’t looking?

When this happens, the first thing that should be done is to confirm or dismiss the possibility she is pregnant. Reprocheck R by Synbiotics is an in-house veterinary lab test done with a blood sample that can help determine if she is actually pregnant. If the test comes back negative, then chances are she is in a false pregnancy.

False pregnancies can occur any time from a few weeks to a few months after a heat cycle. Bitches will exhibit signs similar to the ones above, but not really be pregnant. The pituitary gland in the brain, the ovaries and the uterus all communicate with each other – telling each other when to go into heat, when to ovulate and when conception has occurred. In a false pregnancy, there is a mis-communication between the three organs – the ovaries and pituitary gland think the uterus is pregnant when it actually is not. Eventually because there are no puppies to give birth to, the false pregnancy resolves, mammary glands dry up, and the bitch goes back to her normal routine.

False pregnancies are more common as bitches age:

The communication between the three important organs is not effective as when they were young, so it becomes more common. In general, one false pregnancy is no reason for alarm. However, when the bitch has multiple false pregnancies in a row or is a young bitch with false pregnancies, there may be cause for concern since this mis-communication may lead to pyometras (pus in the uterus) or fertility problems. Your veterinarian should be alerted to the fact your bitch has had false pregnancies and if a litter is desired, doing a breeding soon should be considered.