Phantom Pregnancy in Dogs
I thought I'd write a bit about a common problem, especially in unspayed bitches like my own black labrador, Willow.
Selective breeding has led to our domestic dogs becoming sexually mature at an earlier age. In addition domestic bitches (except African breeds) have twice as many seasons as wild wolves. In this article I will outline a little about the physiology of pregnancy and false pregnancy (pseudocyesis), and ways in which we can help bitches with either true or false pregnancies.
The Oestrus Cycle: Female dogs have a season every 8-9 months. Initially there will be vulval swelling associated with a blood stained discharge. During this phase (proestrus) she will flirt with males.
In the second phase, Oestrus, the vaginal discharge changes from blood-stained to straw coloured. Ovulation occurs, and the female is most fertile.
The next phase, dioestrus, is when the bitch is hormonally pregnant. The corpus luteum, formed at ovulation in the ovary, matures and produces female sex hormones. These in turn stimulate the secretion of prolactin from the anterior lobe of the pituitary, stimulating milk production in the mammary glands.
False pregnancy: The hormonal cycle of the bitch assumes that pregnancy has occurred after every cycle, whether or not a mating has taken place. She will therefore experience the physiological changes of pregnancy over the next 2 months. She will have an increase in progesterone production, milk production and an increase in appetite. She may even go into mild labour.
The caregiver may notice physical and emotional changes, particularly 8-9 weeks after her last season. She may exhibit a change in preferred diet to blander food, fluid retention, and a wish not to take her usual amount of exercise, and she may hoard toys and treat them as puppies. There may be restlessness, lack of appetite, panting, trembling, whining and nest-building at the time she would have given birth. There may be a degree of aggression to perceived threats. She will usually return to normal after 2-3 weeks, 48hrs after the birth would have occurred.
How we can help: As this is a physiological occurrence which settles over 2-3 weeks, treatment is rarely needed. If possible try to reduce stimulation of the mammary glands, by reducing stroking and wiping, and not allowing the bitch to lick excessively, as these will increase prolactin release and further milk production.
Occasionally the bitch may become ill, by producing excessive milk, or other problems. She may need treatment to reduce milk production, such as diuretics or hormone treatment. Although some advocate reduced fluid intake to induce dehydration and reduce milk production, others feel that this may be unsafe.
It is rare (but not unknown) for bitches who are spayed (ovariohysterectomised), to exhibit these changes. Although the majority of the hormones are being produced by the ovaries, some are produced in the adrenal glands.
Complementary Therapies: Pulsatilla from health food shops has been used with good effect. It can also be used just after a season in a bitch with a history of false pregnancies.
Spiritual healing and Reiki can help the dog accept and work with its hormonal state, and help restore self-healing and homeostasis. It can be supplemented with crystals such as chrysophase, moonstone and blue lace agate.
Aromatics that may prove useful include rose, fennel (to dry up lactation) and vanilla. Of the Bach flower remedies, vine, chicory, red chestnut & mustard may be helpful.
In this article, I have discussed the physiology of false pregnancy, and suggested ways in which we can help bitches to cope with the pressures involved. Although many advocate spaying as a way of preventing recurrent false pregnancies, this does not always prevent it. Fundamentally, false pregnancy is a natural occurrence in bitches, and usually needs no treatment.
The full version of this article is available on my website at: http://www.thenaturallyhealthypet.com/articles/20070824_2
Dr Alison Grimston Holistic Doctor and Animal Healer
Wellingham Vane, Wellingham Lane, Ringmer, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 5SN
Tel : 01273 813 251 Email : email@example.com
Web: www.alisongrimston.co.uk Blog: www.holisticdoctor.typepad.com
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