Dog Poppy lying on a sofa

Phantom pregnancies in dogs

  • Phantom, or false, pregnancies are common in unneutered female dogs
  • They will show symptoms of pregnancy and/or nursing despite not being pregnant  or wanting puppies
  • Signs that your dog is suffering from a phantom pregnancy include depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, behavioural changes and nesting
  • Spaying prevents false pregnancy, as well as a number of other more serious conditions

What causes a phantom pregnancy in dogs?

After every season or heat, there are hormonal changes which prepare a bitch’s body for pregnancy, even though they are not pregnant. This may be because naturally, dogs would live in groups and the more female dogs that can help with puppies the better. Some females are more affected by the hormones than others and these bitches may suffer symptoms. 

How long will my dog’s phantom pregnancy last?

This depends on the severity of the symptoms. A phantom pregnancy in a dog can last anywhere from a week to a month.

Flora the Jack Russell, who suffered a phantom pregnancy, looking into the camera
Poor Flora was found wandering the streets as a stray. She was unspayed and covered in mammary tumours, which neutering could have helped prevent. Flora then went onto suffer from a phantom pregnancy, which left her lethargic and depressed. We got her back on her paws, neutered her and found her a loving home.

What are the symptoms of a phantom pregnancy?

Signs that your dog may be experiencing a phantom pregnancy include:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression and/or other behavioural changes
  • Loss of appetitive
  • Nesting – this can involve moving around and digging bedding
  • Nursing – your dog may become particularly attached to a toy
  • Secretion from mammary glands
  • Swollen belly

What should I do if I suspect that my dog is having a phantom pregnancy?

Take them to see your vet, who will be able to rule out a real pregnancy or any other medical conditions which can cause similar symptoms.

How is a phantom pregnancy in a dog treated?

Unless symptoms persist for a long period of time, treatment is not normally necessary and the phantom pregnancy will normally stop on its own. Milk will dry up more quickly if the glands are not stroked or bathed. Long-term, neutering is recommended.

Can I prevent my dog from having a phantom pregnancy?

Yes, by getting your dog neutered. In female dogs, this involves removing the uterus and ovaries. Not only does it prevent pregnancy, and false pregnancies, it also reduces the risk of breast cancers and eliminates the possibility of potentially-fatal infections of the womb.

Read more about the benefits of neutering.

— Page last updated 22/05/2023