False pregnancy



Great Expectations … Or Are They?

Binky* the Maltese Poodle LOOKED pregnant.  She ACTED pregnant.  But how on earth could she possibly BE pregnant?  She hasn’t been out the yard, and she most certainly hasn’t been NEAR a male dog!  It was only after Binky’s owner called her vet, that she learned about that phenomenon that she that she thought was only reserved for ‘psychotic women’ … pseudopregnancy!

Many owners of an unspayed bitch have noticed milk gland enlargement a few weeks after the bitch’s heats. Some may have even noticed milk dripping from the teats and wondered whether the bitch had slipped out of the yard and been mated by the mongrel next door. Some animals go so far as to make a nest, often a hole in the garden or a dark cupboard. They may even be convinced that a shoe, brush or other object is a puppy, and lick it and encourage it to suckle. This is often when mild puzzlement turns to concern on the part of the owner, and a veterinarian is consulted.

This syndrome is called false pregnancy, also known as pseudopregnancy or pseudocyesis in medical parlance. It is thought by some to be anevolutionary adaptation to pack life in the wild. Bitches in the same social group often come on heat at the same time, a phenomenon seen in breeding kennels as well as in wild canids. The evolutionary advantage of this combination of phenomena is thought to be as follows: subordinate bitches are able to assist with, or take over the feeding of the pups of the dominant bitch, generally the only one in the pack which reproduces, should she be unable to rear them herself.

Is She Or Isn’t She?

The bitch is a fascinating animal. All bitches are ‘hormonally pregnant’after every heat. The patterns of secretion of the main hormones of pregnancy, namely progesterone and prolactin, do not differ between pregnant and non-pregnant bitches. Progesterone reaches a peak during the first month after heat, then starts to decline. This is when prolactin secretion starts, rising as the progesterone drops off. Together these two hormones are responsible for preparation for birth: Milk gland development and secretion, and maternal behaviour. The real question is therefore not why some bitches show visible signs, but why not all bitches do.

Spaying a bitch in the two months following heat can also precipitate a false heat as removal of the ovaries causes a precipitous drop in progesterone concentrations.

Keep An Eye Out For This …

False pregnancy is generally limited to mild milk gland development and secretion. This warrants little more than perhaps reducing the bitch’s food and water intake temporarily and upping her exercise. The only serious complication in such cases is the possible development of mastitis. The owner should therefore keep an eye out for signs of inflammation of the milk glands: Pain, enlargement, heat, redness. If these develop, a trip to the vet is definitely warranted, as mastitis in the bitch can be serious.

Doggy HRT?

Hormonal therapy would only be considered where the bitch is having prolonged, severe expression of false pregnancy, consisting of both the physical as well as behavioural changes. It can be disturbing when the bitch nurses inanimate objects to the exclusion of all other interests in life. The more effective treatment methods are fairly expensive, and do not provide a guarantee against recurrence of the symptoms after the end of the course of treatment. This is why medical treatment is not always used. Left untreated, the signs generally wane and disappear within a week or two.

False pregnancies do not affect a bitch’s fertility. However, it is true thatrepeated seasons which are not followed by a pregnancy are associated with a progressive decline in fertility. It may therefore appear as if an older bitch which has had several such unproductive seasons, including one or more false pregnancies, has been affected by the false pregnancies, when in fact the seasons as such are to blame.

Pseudopregnancy is one more reason to advocate spaying young bitches which are not kept for breeding purposes. While it does not have dangerous consequences health-wise, it certainly affects the happy equilibrium of the family pet as well as that of the concerned family.


©Pet’s Health

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