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Dog Nipples Enlarged After Heat Cycle: Ok or Worrisome?

Veterinary reviewed by Nicole Wanner, DVM.

Unspayed female dogs have to overcome quite a few obstacles every heat cycle.

Not only are male dogs going crazy around them, but they’re also facing potential experience health issues.

The behavior changes, the bleeding is going strong for over a week, and physical symptoms include enlarged nipples.

My Rottweiler’s enlarged nipples actually served as the basis for a pseudopregnancy diagnosis.

While swollen nipples are not necessarily an emergency, it’s important to know other potential causes, signs to look out for, and what you should do as well as the no-gos.

My female Rottweiler's enlarged nipples during her heat cycle.
Photo by Pawleaks

Dog Nipples Enlarged After Heat Cycle

It’s normal for dog nipples to enlarge after a heat cycle and many dogs experience pseudopregnancies with enlarged mammary glands.

Other causes for enlarged nipples that may just correlate with the heat cycle:

  • Infection
  • Mammary hyperplasia
  • Thyroid issues
  • Pregnancy
  • Mastitis
  • Pseudopregnancy

Severe swelling, redness, itchiness, or even bleeding may indicate an underlying issue.

In case pregnancy can’t be 100% ruled out and the symptoms fit, your vet might run more tests.

Blood tests check for relaxin, a pregnancy hormone. Ultrasound or x-rays are possibilities too.

Pseudopregnancy is usually accompanied by a host of other symptoms, I’ll dive deeper into that in a second since that’s what my Rottweiler Amalia experienced.

If you’re unsure, consult your vet to rule out underlying issues.

9 Signs Pseudopregnancy May Cause Enlarged Dog Nipples

If your dog has enlarged nipples, is restless, and displays mothering behavior such as guarding toys or nesting after her heat, it might be pseudopregnancy.

My Rottweiler Amalia lying on her back with her chest and stomach exposed on her dog bed.
Photo by Pawleaks

The causes of pseudopregnancies (aka phantom pregnancies) are not yet fully explored.

Some biologists have theories that it increased the chances of survival for wolf cubs.

One of the most common physical signs is enlarged nipples and/or milk production.

Apart from that, behavioral symptoms alongside the timing are your best bet.

A survey of 397 veterinary surgeons in the UK concluded that pseudopregnancies are often only expressed by behavioral symptoms.

  • 96% reported cases of pseudopregnancy with behavioral changes, but no physical changes
  • 96% of the behavioral symptoms included “collecting and mothering objects”
  • 89% reported “enlarged mammary glands and/or milk production” as most common physical sign
  • 49% reported a pseudopregnancy in spayed females

Here are 9 signs that your dog’s nipples may be enlarged due to pseudopregnancy:

  1. Mothering
  2. Nesting
  3. Guarding toys
  4. Restlessness
  5. Lethargy
  6. Decreased exercise/food interest
  7. Increased thirst
  8. Aggression
  9. Enlarged mammary glands with or without milk

Most dogs only exhibit some of these signs and the severity varies wildly.

For some, the change will be quite subtle which is why a vet visit may help clear things up.

How Long Do Dogs Nipples Stay Enlarged After Heat

Dog nipples can stay enlarged for 2-3 weeks after the heat cycle and usually get back to normal by themselves unless there’s an underlying medical condition.

In case a pseudopregnancy causes enlarged nipples, the onset of symptoms can range from 4-9 weeks after the heat.

PetMD notes a narrower range with 6-8 weeks for the onset of pseudopregnancy, but it’s best to watch out for symptoms early on instead of ruling out possible causes.

If that is the case and you notice milk production, never attempt to milk your dog’s nipples for relief, it’ll only increase milk production.

An elastic bandage can help with milk production.

The idea behind the elastic bandage is to stop the milk-production-stimulating hormone prolactin by putting pressure on the mammary glands.

Mild cases of enlarged nipples can last just 7 days.

If your dog’s nipples are significantly enlarged for more than 3 weeks, you should consult your vet.

How Swollen Is Too Swollen For A Dog In Heat

If your dog’s nipples are swollen so severely that they may be infected, bleed, or encourage constant licking, you should consult your vet.

Generally speaking, there’s no size threshold for swollen nipples but once it affects a dog physically or infection and an open wound are on the table, it’s time to contact your vet.

What can your vet do?

If the nipples are swollen severely it’s crucial to rule out medical issues that may cause this instead of the heat.

Veterinarians will usually run a couple of tests and perhaps provide something to reduce the swelling.

Dogs who constantly try to lick might benefit from a cone.

The less commonly used elastic bandage can help with healing the nipples and prevents scratching too.

It also helps to lessen milk production in pseudopregnant dogs as mentioned above.

My Rottweiler’s nipples do swell quite a bit but it differs from heat to heat.

If your dog is a heavy bleeder like mine sometimes is during her heat, it may seem extra uncomfortable.

As mentioned above, check in with your vet just to be sure, especially if your dog is showing signs of lethargy.

Dog Nipples Bruised After Heat

Dog nipples may appear bruised and slightly purplish due to the increased blood flow, especially after the first heat.

As long as there’s no bleeding, the swelling gets gradually better, and your dog doesn’t seem in pain, it’s most likely fine to keep an eye on it for the time being.

However, if you’re not sure if the nipples are too heavily bruised, consult your veterinarian just to be sure it’s nothing to worry about.

Do Dog Nipples Get Better After The Heat?

Usually, dog nipples go back to their normal size after the heat cycle. A false pregnancy may last longer but will eventually get better too if there’s no underlying health issue.

A veterinarian may prescribe something to soothe the nipple and will rule out other conditions.

If the swelling lasts for multiple weeks and doesn’t seem to get better, it’s time for a trip to the vet.

The only way to get rid of swollen dog nipples and all the baggage that comes with it is spaying.

However, spaying comes with its own risks and you should look into all the pros and cons before scheduling an appointment as it’s often taken too lightly.

If your dog is repeatedly suffering from serious issues or pseudopregnancies, spaying might be the way to go.

Swollen nipples may subside quickly, especially with the right care but a vet visit is worth every penny if you suspect a more serious issue at hand.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.


Monday 2nd of January 2023

My girls swelling is getting worse closer to her upcoming heat. One nipple looks like it has a black spot on it, unlike a bruise. Her bags look like she is getting ready for birthing, more so in the rear ones. Trying to get Vet app.


Sunday 17th of September 2023

@marianne, did you end up going to the vet? What were the results?


Monday 2nd of January 2023

Hi Marianne, yes a vet appointment is best to rule out any issues. While swelling is normal, it can also indicate an underlying medical issue so it's best to be sure.

Cheers, Danielle