Are you suffering abdominal pain or discomfort, fatigue, nausea, flatulence, heartburn, and acid reflux? Have you been having difficulty urinating, or experiencing pain while doing so? Oh, and one other question—have you been spontaneously expelling microscopic bits of disintegrated dog fetuses through your urethra?
If you answered “yes” to all of the above, then you may be suffering from “Puppy Pregnancy Syndrome.” Chances are, you’re also reading this from a small rural village in West Bengal India, just a short drive from Calcutta. That’s where this particular delusional disorder—in which otherwise sane men and women are convinced that it’s not only possible to become pregnant with an unwanted litter of pups, but it’s also fairly common—has gripped the villagers in a state of debilitating fear and panic for at least the past decade. These are some of the observations of a group of locally based psychiatrists who, several years ago, published a remarkable series of 7 such case studies in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry.
According to interviews with a random sample of 42 adult villagers (73 percent of whom believed with “definite certainty” that puppy pregnancy is real, and only 9 percent of whom were willing to completely discredit the concept), the etiology of any given case involves the person being recently bitten by a dog. It’s especially likely to result when the dog just happened to be in a state of sexual arousal at the time of the “attack,” since, as everyone in the village attests, dog saliva contains dog gametes. Thus, immaculate conceptions of canines in human carriers are unavoidable.
In fact, the psychiatrists reported how puppy pregnancy is such a problem for these people that there are even “medical” specialists in the community—bara ojhas—who specialize in treating the condition. They’re kept busy offering remedies and performing rituals for inducing abortions of the dog fetuses in hysterical human hosts. Personally, I find puppies cuter than most human babies, and I can think of far worse things than being grazed by the tooth of some worked-up bitch and bearing my very own litter of insanely adorable, good-natured (they’d take after me, after all) puppies. Or so I thought, until I read that puppy pregnancy in men is particularly unpleasant in that the ‘sire’ inevitably dies during the excruciating delivery of the puppies—through his penis. I think I speak for any man who knows what it feels like to micturate a pea-size kidney stone that the prospect of passing a golden retriever puppy through your penis is not a nice idea to dwell upon, no matter how cute that puppy may be. So, in this community, the role of the specialist is to prescribe charms and herbal medicines to help dissolve the puppy fetuses as early in the pregnancy as possible, so that, bit by bit, these dead dogs might slip out of one’s genitals unobtrusively.
So what exactly is happening here—can these people really believe that being bitten by a randy dog causes a person to become pregnant with puppies? It may sound crazy to us, but it’s as real as actual pregnancy to them. A hallmark of the condition, according to the Indian psychiatrists who authored the report, is “the absence of any realistic consideration about the absurdity of asexual animal pregnancy and pregnancy in males (to the degree of delusional conviction).” One woman swore she could hear the soft barking of puppies in her abdomen at night. The researchers argue that Puppy Pregnancy Syndrome meets the criteria for a “Culture-Bound Disorder.” Like other APA-backed examples from this controversial diagnostic category (such as koro, Brain Fag Syndrome, and Stendhal Syndrome) puppy pregnancy is the product of the emotionally-fuelled social transmission of a “mass-delusional belief” linked specifically to this West Bengal community. As evidence of their belief, nearly everyone in the village can name a person whose unexplained death was clearly the result of a toxic puppy pregnancy.
What’s especially interesting is that even reasonably well-educated, bright people in this village endorse such claims and are susceptible to these delusions, which shows just how powerful are ambient cultural attitudes and beliefs in shaping humans' perceptions of reality. The only similar case I’ve come across is the anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s account of the Azande telling him that lesbians give birth to cats—which seems reasonable (kidding!).
It may seem harmless enough to believe that mongrels are gestating in your abdomen, but the problem from a mental health perspective is that “patients” experience genuine somatic symptoms that massively disrupt their quality of life, so much so that psychiatric and therapeutic intervention is needed to alleviate their problems. After one 24-year-old college graduate had an encounter with a stray dog that scratched him on the leg six months earlier, he became extremely wary of dogs because he was deathly afraid that one might knock him up. “He was so preoccupied with dogs that even in the interview room,” the authors tell us, “he was apprehensive that a dog may come out from under the table.” To address his unending circular ruminations about puppy pregnancy, his dog anxiety, and his obsessive-compulsive need to search for microscopic fetal canine parts in his urine, he was prescribed Clomipramine (an antidepressant) and Thioridazine (an antipsychotic). Importantly, he also underwent a month of behavioral reconditioning with a dog while being treated as an inpatient.
I just hope the dog was fixed, for his sake.