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When I found out I was expecting my daughter, I quickly told my husband, and then, of course, the other member of the family: our 'dog daughter', Charli. She'll soon be a big sister this spring, and as my belly grows, I often wonder if she can sense my pregnancy. Can she hear her little sister's heartbeat? Do I smell differently? Is she concerned by all of the naps I'm now taking? Or my strange food cravings?
Our animals quickly become an integral part of our everyday lives and our hearts, so it's normal to be curious about how they interpret us. We spoke with veterinarians to discover how dogs react to their expecting parents and what it means.
Can Dogs Sense Pregnancy in Humans?
While there have not been any official studies on whether dogs can detect pregnancy in people, anecdotal evidence suggests it is highly possible, according to Jenna Olsen, DVM, a veterinary advisor to Pawp. Primarily, this is based on a dog's innate animalistic characteristics. According to Olsen, a dog can smell anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 times better than humans.
"Given this keen sense, dogs can detect drugs, bombs, and various disease processes," she continues. "The caveat to this, however, is that the ability to interpret these smells and respond to them is a trained/learned behavior."
How does this relate to expecting a baby? When a woman is expecting, her hormones change dramatically. Most notably, her body produces human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, only present during pregnancy. Also, levels of estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin all increase, and Olsen says dogs may notice these changes within their owner. But without training to know the significance, there is a good chance they don't understand what the hormone changes signify.
Pups are also creatures of habit, so there's also a likelihood they'll take note if you're hanging around the toilet in your first trimester or constantly dozing off on the couch in your second. Plus, they're in tune with your moods, so if you're tearing up at commercials, they will probably sense something is off.
How Early Can a Dog Sense Pregnancy?
Since there have not been formal studies regarding pregnancy and pups, it's tough to know exactly when your four-legged buddy may notice a difference. However, there is a chance they could know something is up even before you see a positive pregnancy test, according to Cherice Roth, DVM, chief veterinary officer at Fuzzy. As she explains, there is not an exact known time when dogs have been proven to perceive hormone-related changes to human pregnancy; however, there are significant hormonal changes that begin the second week after fertilization.
"There are anecdotal reports of owners noticing a dog's change in behavior before the owners themselves knowing about a pregnancy," she continues. "As pregnancy progresses, hormones such as progesterone, prolactin, and relaxin may influence physical changes as well as cause subtle scent changes that a dog may readily perceive."
Will Your Dog's Behavior Change While You or Your Partner Is Pregnant?
Pay attention to your pup during your pregnancy, and you may notice a few subtle changes in their behaviors. While, of course, we can't attribute it all to the bundle of joy in your belly, it's still sweet to think they are already looking out for their sibling-to-be. Here, vets describe how your pup's demeanor may shift throughout the pregnancy.
They may become more clingy toward the pregnant owner.
Has your pup been glued to your hip since the start of your pregnancy? There's a reason for that. Since dogs observe both the physical and emotional states of owners, Olsen says these changes are also noticeable and may lead some dogs to want to comfort their owners as they might seem in need of a little extra TLC.
They could become more protective over the pregnant owner.
Whether it's the hormones or the physical act of how pregnant people develop new behaviors towards their own growing belly, Olsen says some pups may become more protective of their owner.
"With their growing baby bump, many women are more inclined to protect their belly from being jumped on or place their hands on their belly more frequently. Some dogs will notice this, and in turn, know there is something worth protecting in there," she adds.
They may become more curious.
Though cats usually are known for their inquisitive attitudes, dogs can be just as curious. In fact, as new items come into your home for the baby—furniture, gear, a crib, new clothes—your pup may be eager to check it all out, says Warren Eckstein, a pet expert, trainer, and animal communicator. "It's a good idea to familiarize your dog with all of the new items, including the sounds a baby makes and the different smells," he says. "You might even want to pick up a doll and get the dog used to your changes."
They may be annoyed or anxious.
Pups get used to a daily schedule, much in the way we all do. They enjoy their morning bathroom break, walk, and breakfast. They look forward to afternoon fetch. So when your pregnancy throws off, well, everything, it could confuse and annoy them, Eckstein says. As much as you can, he recommends keeping your dog's routine much of the same. And, give them a little extra TLC since your floof may experience anxiety, too.
"Many people don't realize the effect stress has on our dogs, and the best way to alleviate stress is to keep your pets motivated at this time," he suggests. "Talk to them about the pregnancy; give them plenty of time to adjust to all the new changes. If you make the changes fun and you actually increase your dog's mental stimulation at this point, you can avoid a lot of the anxieties."
They may be more loving.
If your best buddy is more cuddly than ever, they could be showing you the affection they think you need during your pregnancy. It's an experience Katy Nelson, DVM, a senior veterinarian at Chewy, experienced with both of her pregnancies. While her dog, Papa, was always doting, he took it to an extreme while she was expecting.
"He wanted to be next to me at all times and would lay his head on my growing belly at every opportunity. When the babies arrived, he was every bit as sweet and patient with them as he had been with me," she continues. "When I became pregnant a second time, I actually took a pregnancy test because he laid his head on my stomach one day like he hadn't done in 2.5 years. That day it was negative, but two weeks later, I was positive. He definitely knew before I did."