Dogs can be very sensitive creatures. They often have strong reactions to changes in their environments and the people in their lives, and have even been known to experience grief after a loss.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that many dog owners say they’ve noticed changes in a pet’s behavior when a human in the household becomes pregnant. Some have shared stories of canines “knowing” that their owners were pregnant before they even realized it themselves.
But can your dog actually tell when you’re pregnant? Can they detect your pregnancy early on, before it’s even visible? And if so, how? HuffPost spoke to a few canine experts to find out.
The Truth About Dog Senses
Although there isn’t much definitive research to prove dogs can detect pregnancy, there are studies about dog sense detection that suggest it’s a possibility.
“Our dogs are keen observers,” said Mary R. Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist with the American Kennel Club. “They have great senses of smell and vision, and it is no wonder that they can detect something is different when a woman is pregnant.”
She noted that many dogs can tell something has shifted in a familiar human during pregnancy by detecting physical changes related to scent and appearance, as well as behavioral and emotional changes.
“Pregnant women have a change in their body chemistry that can result in a change in odor that can be due to an altered pH balance, and hormonal and dietary changes,” Burch explained. “In addition to body scents changing, women who are experiencing morning sickness may not feel like eating, and as a result develop ketosis that causes bad breath.”
Indeed, dogs are known for their powerful sense of smell. These are the creatures we train to sniff out drugs and explosives, after all, and research has shown that dogs can detect health conditions like cancer, migraines and epileptic seizures. Experts are currently working to see if dogs might be able to sniff out the coronavirus, too.
“Do they notice that a stranger is pregnant? Sure, just don’t expect most to care much.”
– Sarah Wilson, dog trainer
A dog’s ability to detect pregnancy-related changes likely depends on their familiarity with that person.
“In a familiar woman, these changes in our hormones and body chemistry may be more noticeable compared to a woman they haven’t met before,” said Kate Mornement, an Australian animal behaviorist and consultant.
“Changes in a woman in the dog’s own household would be the most obvious, but dogs could pick up on changes in the body chemistry of other women as well,” Burch noted.
In addition to detecting hormonal changes through their sense of smell, dogs may also be able to hear a fetal heartbeat, Mornement said. Although there isn’t much formal research to back up this theory, many expectant mothers have shared anecdotal experience suggesting it’s possible.
Still, as with any pregnancy-related differences dogs may detect, we don’t know if they really understand the reason behind the changes, or if they’ll connect the changes to the newborn baby you eventually bring home.
How Pregnancy Affects Dog Behavior
Your pregnancy might affect your dog’s mood and behavior, though this isn’t always the case.
“When I was pregnant with my children, one of our dogs, a Labrador, didn’t behave any differently. However the other, a Boxer, became quite anxious,” said Mornement. “I have also heard countless clients report of their dog’s change in behavior after they fell pregnant. Mainly that their dog became more clingy.”
Burch noted that behavioral changes in pregnant people can lead to behavioral changes in their dogs.
“When women are pregnant, they are often protective of their unborn babies, putting their hands on their stomach or being protective, for example, if the family dog tries to jump on them,” she said. “This can result in a dog who becomes more sensitive or it can result in a dog who demands more attention and appears needy.”
Burch added that a friend noticed her dog acting stressed and anxious when she was in the advanced stages of pregnancy. She hypothesized this was due to things in the house being moved around and adjusted to prepare for the baby, as well as changes to the family’s daily schedule, which cut down on daily exercise time for the dog.
“Ideally, the mother- and father-to-be won’t forget about the dog and will still provide attention, activities and exercise for the dog,” Burch said.
Sarah Wilson, a dog trainer and author of nine pet-related books, said she has heard many stories about dogs becoming more protective or attentive in response to their human’s pregnancy, but noted these tend to be “hindsight insights.”
She said examples include observations like “I wondered why he changed sleeping spots so he could always see me,” “I noticed she started placing herself between me and strangers on our walks,” and “That’s why she has to be touching me all the time now.”
Pregnancies outside the dog’s own household are probably less impactful.
“Do they notice that a stranger is pregnant? Sure, just don’t expect most to care much,” Wilson said.
Preparing Your Dog For A New Baby
“It’s really important that expectant parents prepare their dog for the arrival of their baby, as it’s a big change to everyone’s usual routine,” Mornement said. “Proper preparation also helps to avoid fear and anxiety problems once baby is born.”
One way to prepare your dog for a new baby is to gradually introduce them to baby-related items, and to create positive associations by pairing these items with treats and praise in the weeks and months prior to the birth.
Other suggestions from experts include making gradual changes to your dog’s routine, playing recordings of different baby sounds and letting them sniff baby powders and lotions before the little one’s arrival.
You know your dog best, so determine which methods make the most sense for your canine and family.