Here's an interesting fact I had no idea about when I first started keeping intact dogs. A bitch (female dog) goes through the same reproductive processes whether or not she gets pregnant which takes the form of a false pregnancy in the case of the latter. This is what causes wear and tear on her uterus which can cause problems as she ages. In many dogs, this false pregnancy is hardly noticeable. The hormonal changes are still happening, but they don't affect the dog in a noticeable fashion.
However in some individuals and it seems like, in some breeds in particular, false pregnancy can be extremely noticeable and impact your bitch in sometimes frustrating ways. I've talked to a lot of sighthound owners and notable false pregnancies seem to affect them quite often. In Azawakh in particular, they seem completely ubiquitous.
So what symptoms mark a false pregnancy? Similar symptoms to real pregnancy.
Retention of water
Loss of muscle tone
Nausea/Lack of appetite
Tendency to react emotionally/differently than their typical reactions
Producing milk (as "due date" approaches)
False contractions (when "due date" approaches)
Not every dog gets every (or any) symptoms every cycle. I can tell you, at this point my girls have had five heat cycles between the two of them and they've had every symptom listed above at some point.
The top pictures are from when the girls are in peak condition. The bottom pictures are from when the girls are almost two months into false pregnancy. Note the prominent nipples, the gentler curves, the reduction in tuck (particularly with Amalu), and the lost of muscle tone.
I was so baffled when Ami was in false pregnancy the first time. She was lethargic and clingy. She didn't want to go out and play agility. She was sluggish and a bit reactive at flyball. Now, I had seen posted in Azawakh groups about false pregnancy before, but I'd never thought I would deal with it. Then I came to understand the canine reproductive system a bit better.
I started talking to other people who compete heavily with their sighthounds- in coursing, in racing including professional Greyhound racing, and even in agility - and I started to realize how prevalent bad false pregnancies are. One day Ash the Saluki ran a mixed stake with an Afghan who was in false pregnancy and seeing the difference in her performance was fascinating. This was all extra intriguing to me because when I talked to owners of other types of breeds I didn't find any whose bitches' performance was affected by false pregnancy like I say in sighthounds. I'm sure it happens, but it seems less prevalent.
Now, don't get me wrong, my girls can still do things in false pregnancy. Unless you know my girls well, you likely won't even notice. But my agility instructor sure notices the lack of stamina. It's easy to see at coursing trials too. Still, Amidi took her Best in Field while she was 62 days into her false pregnancy. But I tend to lower their jump heights in agility. I let them take exercise at their own pace. And, in general, I take things lighter with them. One thing that is common with both Amidi and Amalu is the marked loss in muscle tone. I'm thankful I have dogs that won't push themselves to injury when they're tired, which I know can be a problem in sighthound breeds.
But, I was still at an impasse. I enjoy doing sports with my dogs. I'm embarking on a journey to see what they're physically capable of and some of our sports like lure coursing and racing require breed competition. This means I can compete with Anubi (and Tabiri when he's ready) competitively year round, but the girls lose 2.5 months total to being in season and then another two months of peak performance. Is it the end of the world? No, certainly not. But essentially losing a third of the year for my girls is frustrating. I will always keep males in the house, I personally prefer them in general, but false pregnancies made me consider keeping more males even more.
I did a lot of research while looking for ways to make false pregnancy easier on my girls and found the raspberry leaf can help. It's used in human wholistic medicine quite frequently to help human women with cramping during mensuration, to help tone the uterus to make for easier delivery, and to decrease bleeding. I'd heard some good results for it's use in dogs to ease both false pregnancy and pregnancy alike, so after Ami's last season, I tried it. The results were almost immediate.
A few days after she entered diestrus (false pregnancy in this case) she was lethargic and clingy. I started supplementing with raspberry leaf and within a couple days she seemed to have her regular energy back. She still looked bloated and her nipples still swelled, but I saw much less loss of muscle tone and she kept her energy so much better. Talking to my vet, the supplement was something he didn't think would do harm but didn't think would help either. I think, in this case, it certainly helped. While it's not documented clinically, I am impressed with the difference it made with Ami with no noticeable side effects and it is something I will continue to try in the future, because it certainly made her much more comfortable.
Both of these pictures are at day 63 of false pregnancy. The first picture is before from a cycle before I used raspberry leaf. The second is from her most recent cycle where I did use raspberry leaf. I can see the difference in muscle tone and tuck-up. And anyone attending could see the difference in stamina at these events.