False or Phantom Pregnancy in Cats
Discussed by Dr. Ramiz Mondal (MVSc.); Dr. Samina Parveen (MVSc.)
False pregnancy (pseudopregnancy) is uncommon in cats but occurs when they have been induced to ovulate but did not conceive. There may be mammary development with milk production. Cats also often exhibit behaviour changes (for example, acting as if pregnancy and delivery have occurred).
What is False Pregnancy?
False pregnancies in cats are rare. The only way to determine if a cat is pregnant or is experiencing a false pregnancy is to visit the veterinarian. Because false pregnancies can sometimes mimic serious conditions, it’s important to see the veterinarian right away if pregnancy symptoms are displayed by a cat who wasn’t around a male cat during her heat cycle.
A false pregnancy — also known as a phantom pregnancy, pseudocyesis, or pseudopregnancy — occurs when a fully matured female cat displays all of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant.
False pregnancy typically occurs between six to 12 weeks after the cat has been in estrus, also known as “heat”. False pregnancy does not affect a cat’s future ability to breed in subsequent pregnancies.
Symptoms of False Pregnancy
Symptoms appear 6 to 12 weeks after the cat has been in heat and may continue for several months after a false pregnancy has been diagnosed.
- Enlarged mammary glands
- Brown-tinged fluid or water secretion from the mammary glands
- Pink nipples
- Displaying nesting behaviors, such as using blankets and papers to make a nest
- Mothering inanimate objects, such as toys, stuffed animals, and shoes
- Behavioral changes, such as being extremely affectionate, depressed, or guarded
- Swollen abdomen
- Weight gain
- Mucoid vaginal discharge
- Loss of appetite
Causes of False Pregnancy
The exact cause of false pregnancy is not fully understood. Hormonal imbalances of the hormones prolactin and progesterone are thought to play a role in its development. During the cat’s heat cycle, if she is bred with an infertile male cat, her body will ovulate and produce a corpus luteum. It is believed that Other conditions can cause the same symptoms as a false pregnancy in cats and will need to be ruled out by a veterinarian.
These conditions include:
- Cancer of the mammary gland or uterus
- Infection of the uterus
- True pregnancy
Diagnosis of False Pregnancy
The veterinarian will need to know the cat’s complete health history, the dates of the cat’s previous heat cycle, when symptoms first began, and the nature of the symptoms. The veterinarian will examine the cat and look for swollen mammary glands and signs of nipple discharge, and will feel the abdomen for the presence of kittens.
Blood tests and labs, such as a complete blood count, biochemical profile and a urinalysis will be done. A false pregnancy should present with labs that are normal. An abdominal ultrasound or x-ray may also be done. These tests can look for fluid accumulation in the abdomen or uterus, detect a true pregnancy, determine if a uterine infection is present, and look for organ enlargement.
Treatment of False Pregnancy
No treatment is necessary if this is the first false pregnancy that the cat has experienced. Signs and symptoms typically go away within two to three weeks but can last several months. If the cat has experienced recurrent false pregnancies, the veterinarian may recommend the following treatment options:
An ovariohysterectomy may be recommended for recurrent false pregnancies. During an ovariohysterectomy, the veterinarian will remove both ovaries and the uterus from the cat. This is done while the cat is under general anesthesia. The veterinarian will make a small incision into the abdominal wall. The two ovaries are tied off and removed along with the uterus. The cat’s incision will then be closed with sutures.
2. Recovery of False Pregnancy in Cats
Cats who have begun to lactate or have swollen mammary glands should have cold or warm compresses placed on their glands. The compress will help to reduce these secretions. An Elizabethan cone, or “e-collar”, may need to be worn in order to prevent the cat from licking or self-nursing, which will cause lactation to occur. Under the veterinarian’s advice, food may also need to be reduced to prevent or stop lactation from occurring. It’s important to never strip the milk from the cat, as this will continue lactation rather than ending it.
Cats who have an underlying condition that caused the false pregnancy symptoms will need to follow up with the veterinarian for additional care. If the cat had an ovariohysterectomy, an Elizabethan cone will need to be worn to prevent the cat from licking or biting its sutures.