You think your bitch has survived her heat well and everything will be back to normal, but often the time after the heat is more stressful for many dog owners than the heat itself. The false pregnancy and a following false motherhood set in with many dogs noticeably. We dog owners can recognize this in the first step by the fact that the dog behaves differently than usual. The false pregnancy in bitches often occurs and is perceived differently strong. This is a "pseudopregnancy" in which bitches hormonally undergo pregnancy even though fertilization has not occurred.
Why does it happen?
The origin lies in the heritage of the wolf. If a she-wolf has given birth, the pups are cared for by other she-wolves of the same pack. They even produce milk and can support the she-wolf in the rearing process. This is possible due to the hormonal change during the "false pregnancy". In the wild of wolves, the process takes place once a year, in bitches about twice a year.
When does the false pregnancy occur?
After the standing heat the false pregnancy begins. This is possible because the corpus luteum is still releasing progesterone after ovulation. Progesterone is there to maintain pregnancy in a bitch’s body. As it is usual in a (false) pregnancy, the dogs also change in their behavior. You may have noticed that your bitch has become more affectionate and cuddly. That would be completely authentic for the time. A false pregnancy lasts as long as a real pregnancy, namely around 63 days. You see, nature has arranged it quite cleverly and with quite little effort there is support for the pregnant bitch from many sides within the family.
After the false pregnancy follows the false motherhood
The false maternity sets in ca. 8 weeks after the standing heat – so it replaces the false pregnancy by a hormone change. The hormonal difference is that behind a false pregnancy is the pregnancy hormone progesterone and behind a false motherhood is the so-called parent hormone prolactin.
Thus, as a dog owner, you often notice that the bitch shows the following:
– Milk is produced
– The mammary glands swell
– Increased attachment of the bitch
– "Nesting instinct" is awakened, mainly in quiet places (bed, couch, basket, …) by scratching, digging, etc.
– Replacement puppies are sought, mothered, carried off and defended
– Duration on average: 2 to 4 weeks
Nature has once again thought cleverly: bitches have a seasonal sexual cycle. This ensures that there are enough wet nurses and "helpers at the nest" at the same time.
Do bitches need veterinary assistance in this process?
The phenomenon of false pregnancy/ false motherhood is biologically normal. Nevertheless, support depends on the intensity. Normally, after a few weeks everything is over again and the organism adjusts to a cycle break, the anoestrus.
If a bitch shows increased behaviors as described above, you can first start by removing stuffed animals or other objects that are carried around imaginary, to literally bring the bitch to other thoughts. This can be achieved by activities, which the bitch enjoys during the cycle pause.
To make sure that the strain of this process is not too high for the bitch or that a regular false pregnancy with exaggeratedly described behavior patterns occurs, a visit to the veterinarian is advantageous.
When veterinary treatment is inevitable?
A visit to the vet should definitely be noticed if the bitch shows any abnormalities, such as depressed moods, increased aggressive behavior, or changes in character that are clearly different from her usual behavior. The bitch can be helped out of the hormonal loop by herbal or medicinal support, if the organism does not manage it on its own.
So even if it’s a normal progression, many dog owners are happy to consult with a neutral professional – if only because you are subjective and only want the best for your dog. If you know that your own dog is suffering, a neutral person can be a great help – for you and your dog.
Kristina Ziemer-Falke is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant through the Veterinary Chamber of Schleswig-Holstein and the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. In addition, she has many additional training courses and specializations and is on the examination board of the Lower Saxony Veterinary Chamber for dog trainer certifications.
With her husband Jorg Ziemer she founded the training center Ziemer& Falke, where they have been training dog trainers all over Germany for many years with a lot of heart, passion and competence and offer many further training courses. Many people know Kristina as a successful author of books for dog trainers and dog owners as well as from articles in popular dog magazines.
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