Reviewed by Dr. William Holleman
Is your doe acting 80% pregnant? Is there something about this pregnancy that just doesn't seem quite right but you just can't put your finger on it? Maybe her udder isn't filling like it usually does at four months. Maybe she doesn't have her usual tight-belly appearance. And, come to think of it, you haven't seen any kids kicking at all like you sometimes do. An observant goat person may be able to pick up these oblique clues, but maybe not. False pregnancy is a condition that is almost impossible to determine without an ultrasound.
A false pregnancy or pseudopregnancy can occur when a doe's reproductive hormone system gets "short circuited." A brief description of ovulation may be helpful. A follicle on the doe's ovary starts developing and producing estrogen. Increased estrogen triggers the release of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) which matures the follicle. The follicle, similar in appearance to a water blister, grows until it finally ruptures and releases the egg. The egg then floats toward the oviduct. After ovulation, the collapsed follicle becomes a new endocrine structure called the corpus luteum (CL), or yellow body, which produces progesterone to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and to maintain the pregnancy. If the egg meets healthy sperm in the oviduct/fallopian tube and is fertilized, it then travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus where it implants itself. If this [conception] occurs, the corpus luteum will remain throughout the pregnancy, secreting both estrogenic and progestational steroids. If the doe does not conceive, the uterus produces prostaglandin that dissolves the CL, leaving a small scar where the follicle was, and a new cycle begins.
Once in a while things get a little confused and the CL does not dissolve and continues to produce progesterone hormone for a pregnancy that does not exist. This can happen whether or not a doe was bred. A urine pregnancy test would be positive and the doe no longer comes into heat. Her hormones say she's pregnant, so the typical signs occur: mammary gland enlargement, milk production, mothering instinct, and even uterine cramps.
Some does may correct a pseudopregnancy early and show a bloody discharge, but the majority go to term. At term, the doe usually goes through the labor process and delivers a "cloudburst", a cloudy fluid but no placenta or fetus. At the end of this "pregnancy," the CL dissolves and a new cycle begins.
There is no known predisposition to false pregnancy and no way to predict it. It can be diagnosed with an ultrasound test. A prostaglandin injection will end a false pregnancy or a real one.
False pregnancy is not uncommon in goats, dogs and other livestock. It is a seemingly harmless, self-correcting problem but carries a little risk. You can waste 5 months waiting for kids from your favorite doe. Under the influence of progesterone the uterus is susceptible to infection, and this may occur during the false pregnancy. Watch for vaginal discharge, a high fever or general depression to help avoid a toxic situation.
After terminating a false pregnancy, the doe should come back into estrus and can be bred within a month or two. False pregnancies rarely occur back-to-back. Maybe they are a doe's way of resting her body, particularly after a fairly stressful time. It can happen to any doe. The law of averages says that if you raise goats long enough, you'll get to see this phenomena first-hand.