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Bull Mastiff obsessed with the cats, following them everywhere and whining

We have a four-year-old female Bull Mastiff, Bella, who hasn't been spayed. She has always been a loving, motherly dog to our six-year-old daughter and our two cats, but she has never been bred. We are very confused by what is currently going on with Bella. For the last three weeks, she has had swollen, milky breasts! Even weirder, she has become obsessed with the cats, following them everywhere and whining when she can't get near them. Rather than playing with them like she usually does, all she wants to do is lie down near them. Once she actually lay down on top of one of the cats while he was sleeping. She is a big dog, so you can imagine the cat's reaction! She seems to really want to have puppies, and we feel bad that we never let her have any. We are considering breeding her when she comes back into heat, or else spaying her. She isn't show quality-we bought her from a pet store (I know, I know. Bad idea, but we love her). However, she does have papers. My question is, what should we do about her strange attitude toward the cats?

What you are describing isn't a behavioral problem, but a physical one known as "false pregnancy." It typically occurs in certain intact female dogs following a heat cycle and runs the same course as normal gestation (pregnancy) and lactation (nursing) do. The hormone imbalance caused by false pregnancy can create some very strange behaviors, such as treating toys (or cats!) as "puppies" and digging or burrowing into furniture, carpet and closets, or under beds in an attempt to make a whelping area for the impending imaginary puppies.

In your case, I would guess that she is attempting to "nurse" her "puppy-cats." The usual treatment is to do nothing and allow the situation to run its natural course, unless you are concerned that she may really squish one of the cats (which I doubt as they are probably more alert to her approach now). She will begin to "wean" them in a few weeks, and her milk should dry up as her hormone levels drop. A qualified veterinarian should be able to diagnose your dog's strange, but temporary, condition. I wouldn't suggest breeding her; if every dog were allowed to reproduce, it would really compound the already huge problem of too many unwanted dogs. Only superior canine specimens of health, conformation, and temperament, with well-researched genetic and health backgrounds, should reproduce. This guarantees the best odds that sound, healthy puppies will be born. If you are really adamant about breeding Bella, be sure to first have her hips, eyes and heart tested and the results documented. Your vet can give you the information you need to begin pursuing certification for her hips and heart from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and for her eyes from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation. Locate superior Bull Mastiff breeders in your area and ask them to assess your dog's conformation. Showing in conformation isn't about hobnobbing and snobbery for the upper crust doggy-set; it is to seek objective professional opinions (the judge's) regarding your dog's breeding quality.

Personally, I think Bella can live a happy, fulfilled life with her surrogate puppies and her human family. Spaying protects female dogs from life-threatening uterine infections and reduces incidences of mammary tumors. However, if you decide to spay her, you should wait three months after her false pregnancy ends, in order to avoid causing more hormone imbalance-related problems. Give Bella lots of love and cuddles, and also some soft stuffed toys; they make more cooperative surrogate puppies than most cats!

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