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Dog looking at a pregnant woman

The essentials

  • Dogs may be able to detect pregnancy by smell — Not only can dogs smell up to 10,000 times better than we can, but they can also pick up a greater range of scents, including hormones.
  • Changes in mood, behaviors, and routine may give them a hint — Abnormalities in daily routines, hormonal shifts, and frequent mood swings may signal your dog that something’s up. Whether they know pregnancy is the cause is up for debate.
  • Dogs often behave differently around pregnant pet parents — Depending on their personality, some dogs may become protective of the pregnant person. Others might become clingy if they’re anxious about losing your attention.

Can dogs sense pregnancy? 

Welcoming new life into the world is a time of transition for you and your dog. As soon as the baby’s born, routines will shift for the family, including the pup. However, dogs may pick up on the changes earlier than we think. While your dog’s nose is certainly not as reliable as a pregnancy test, anecdotal evidence from parents-to-be suggests they can sense pregnancy — sometimes even before we do.

Scientifically it hasn't been proven how early a dog may sense pregnancy, but it is believed that hormonal changes may be able to be detected as early as the second week of fertilization, depending on the dog.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Can my dog sense that I’m pregnant?

Your dog’s brain has a space devoted to registering scents that’s about 40 times larger than the comparable part of the average human brain. Some researchers also say that dogs have approximately 60 times more smell receptors than we do. However, their keen senses give them more than intense sensory reactions to chili cheese fries. Dogs can also smell things that the human nose simply can’t, from drugs to cancer. Pregnancy hormones are suspected to be another one of their specialties. Since pregnancy tests detect hormones within a couple of weeks after conception, a dog’s nose may be able to do the same.

Changes in hormones

Soon after conception, certain hormonal levels rise in response: progesterone, prolactin, and relaxin help the baby develop and prepare the body for labor. And, of course, human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG) is only produced during pregnancy. Since dogs can sense stress hormones, it makes sense that they’d pick up on the hormonal changes that result from pregnancy.

It is possible that dogs may not be detecting specific hormones, but actually the hormones cause a change in scent and that is what is being detected.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Changes in activity levels and daily routines

Some dogs adapt to change more than others, but all are familiar with routines. Some dogs will even tell you when it’s time for dinner or grab their leash if you always walk them at a certain time. Dogs also quickly detect changes in the daily routine. They’ll know something’s amiss if you’re lying on the sofa when you’re usually at work, or skipping your cup of coffee before their morning walk.

Emotional changes and mood swings

Emotions are linked to changes in hormone levels, which is why dogs can sense anxiety or fear. Not only can dogs smell the hormones that convey emotional changes, but they are also quick to notice physical signs of conditions like fatigue and depression.

Changes in health

Dogs can sense when someone feels under the weather, and they’ll try to make them feel better. They’ll likely try to contribute cuddles and extra attention in lieu of a get-well-soon card.

While they’re not physicians, studies have shown that dogs do have slight healing powers. Petting them for only 10 minutes can significantly reduce your blood pressure and cortisol levels, which indicate stress. Since stress weakens the immune system, dogs basically act as an immunity boost.

Interestingly, petting your dog also releases another hormone called oxytocin. This feel-good hormone is the same one that chemically strengthens the bond between mothers and newborn babies, which helps explain the strong bond between humans and pets.

How does a dog’s behavior change when you are pregnant? 

Not all dogs respond the same way to pregnancy. A rowdy pup may simmer down in the presence of a pregnant woman, or an amiable dog may suddenly turn hostile to other dogs on their daily walk with a pregnant pet parent. Other dogs may not act like anything is different.

Do dogs get clingy when you are pregnant?

Our dogs depend on us for food, love, and shelter. They like being the fur baby, but sometimes during pregnancy, they may feel the need to reverse roles and protect us. It’s not unusual to hear of dogs guarding their pregnant pet parents or even snapping at other dogs if their pregnant owner is nearby.

Other dogs may feel less protective but more threatened as they perceive attention is drifting away from them. As preparations for the baby are underway, it’s easy for Fido to feel a little left out. Make sure to spend one-on-one time with your dog before and after the baby arrives so they still feel loved and included in the family.

Why do dogs lay on pregnant bellies?

Many pet parents have noted that their dog loves to rest their rump on their bump. While it’s OK to let them rest their head, just to be safe, they shouldn’t lean their entire body on the baby.

We don’t exactly know why dogs are attracted to growing pregnant bellies. Perhaps they’re craving attention or comfort or seeking to provide the same to you. Or maybe they enjoy feeling the kicks and heartbeat of their new sibling.

How to handle your dog’s behavior changes during pregnancy 

Pregnancy can bring out protective instincts in your dog. While admirable, it can pose some challenges in daily life if they become aggressive toward other animals or people. It’s unlikely for your dog to act aggressively toward the pregnant person, but they may try to defend them from others in the room who they perceive as a threat—even if it’s the father.

Conversely, a dog may feel threatened by the pregnancy itself as it takes the attention off of them. In this case, they’ll likely become more clingy than aggressive. Here’s how to deal with any problems that might arise while you’re expecting.

Establish clear boundaries

Your dog might be your best buddy, but there are times when you have to set firm boundaries for the sake of your health. For example, if your 80-pound boxer keeps bulldozing between your legs, you might have to keep them out of the kitchen to prevent them from tripping you while you cook.

Encourage gentle behavior

If your dog defends you, gently reprimand their behavior. Some dogs have sensitive feelings that don’t respond well to harsh scolding. Remember, they believe they are protecting you, so respond respectfully. Simply say “no” firmly, and redirect their attention instead of yelling or hitting.

Maintain a consistent routine

As much as possible, keep a consistent schedule with your pup. If you can’t keep up the daily walk, consider recruiting a family member or hiring a pet sitter to help. Making things feel as normal as possible can relieve your dog’s anxiety about the situation. Above all, spend time with them every day to show that you’re not going anywhere when the baby arrives.

Dogs are more likely to be more clingy if they perceive their owner is pregnant. Clingy dogs may require a lot more attention, or may need to be provided with more stimuli to keep them occupied. Aggressive dogs may need advanced training.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

Can cats sense pregnancy? 

Like dogs, cats can smell better than we can. They can also detect hormonal changes. It’s estimated that cats can sense pregnancy within 3-4 weeks of conception. However, it’s unlikely that they know what exactly is causing the changes unless their pet parent has been pregnant before.

As cats sense the hormonal and behavioral changes of pregnancy, they might show more affection to the pregnant person, such as rubbing against their legs or wanting to rest in the lap more than usual. This response is more typical in cats already closely bonded with their owners. If your cat normally keeps their distance, they may act even more aloof as they notice something’s amiss.

Carve out time to love on your cat while preparing for the baby. Cats intensely dislike change. If they feel neglected they may display anxious behaviors, such as soiling the nursery.

Interestingly, cats can hear much better than dogs. They may be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat, which could explain why many like to spend so much time beside a pregnant person.