You're pregnant, you've calculated your due date, and you've started noticing some unusual behaviour from your dog. So, is there really anything to suggest that dogs can sense pregnancy?
There is some data that glucemia-alert dogs can sense low blood glucose levels in their owners. This can be helpful for people who have diabetes, especially Type 1.
This is possible due to the structural and physiological features of dogs’ brains. Their brains are adapted to be particularly good at recognizing smells. That’s why even minor changes in a person’s chemical structure can be noticed by the dog’s nose.
But can dogs sense pregnancy in people too?
How early can a dog detect pregnancy?
Some people say that their dog started acting differently around them even before they knew they were pregnant. Some people who are trying to conceive may watch their dog’s behavior to see if they respond in different or unusual ways. It’s possible that a dog might notice something is different even if their owner is only a few weeks pregnant. It’s also possible a dog might not notice someone is pregnant until their belly starts showing or their routine changes. A dog noticing that someone is pregnant can be a fun story, but a pregnancy test is a more reliable way to determine if conception has occurred.
How can dogs sense pregnancy before you know?
So, what might give dogs the ability to detect pregnancy before the pregnant person knows themselves? The answer may lie in their physiology or their temperament.
A dog’s sense of smell is substantially better than a human’s. In fact, dogs can differentiate between anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 different scents and have 60 times more scent receptors than humans. But can dogs sense pregnancy in humans? Although there haven’t been any scientific studies that have examined specifically whether dogs can pick up the scent of a pregnant person, anecdotal evidence suggests that it may be possible. The hormonal changes during pregnancy may cause subtle changes to the person’s scent that are detectable only to their canine companion. It’s likely that the dog senses some change in the owner's smell, but cannot identify such a specific reason as pregnancy.
How hormones can affect your scent
Hormones change during pregnancy, and this could affect the owner’s familiar smell that their dog knows and loves. While it may not be accurate to say that dogs smell pregnancy, they may be able to smell these hormonal changes.
Hormones can influence not only the smell of a person’s body, but also the state of their health, appearance, and behavior. One of the first pregnancy hormones that the body produces is human chorionic gonadotropin, which occurs during the second week after fertilization. This is the same hormone that urine or blood sample pregnancy tests detect. This hormone is responsible for the nausea and vomiting that often comes during pregnancy.
Other pregnancy hormones that may influence scent, physical changes, and behavior include:
- Relaxin, which loosens the muscles and ligaments in preparation for labor
- Prolactin, which stimulates breast milk production
- Progesterone, which supports fetal development and is the reason for drowsiness or fatigue
Although the pregnant person might not notice a difference in how they smell, these hormones will probably start to change how they feel. Hormonal changes correspond to physical changes in the body, such as:
- Swollen, sensitive, or painful breasts
- Changes in appetite or taste preferences
Dogs observe behavior
How else might dogs sense pregnancy? Dogs are very observant creatures and can pick up on different body language cues, moods, and emotions. Any new change in behavior can make a dog suspect something unusual. A dog might notice if their owner is feeling worried, or they might respond differently to fatigue or alertness.
Dogs are also highly sensitive to their environment, especially if what is familiar to them starts to change. If walks have become shorter or their daily routine has changed, they are likely to pick up on it. If they notice that a room is being redecorated or new furniture and toys are arriving, they may figure out that something is happening.
Will a dog’s behavior change?
Many pregnant people say that their dog became more affectionate, cuddly, alert, and protective toward them when they became pregnant.
A dog’s behavior might also change based on their owner’s pregnancy symptoms or mood. For example, if someone is experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, their dog might respond to the change in behavior if they appear uncomfortable or concerned. If real pregnancy contractions start and their owners are preparing for labor and delivery, the dog may react to what’s going on around them.
Below are some common behaviors that dogs exhibit when their owner is pregnant:
- Being more affectionate than usual — following their owner around or looking for attention
- Being more alert or protective — showing a heightened sensitivity to otherwise familiar people and environments
- Being more cuddly — nuzzling their owner’s abdomen or snuggling when they’re resting
- Acting out — urinating around the house or chewing items brought home for the new baby
- Seeming unfriendly — growling and barking sometimes and being unwilling to communicate
A dog’s behavior depends on their personality, and some dogs may react more strongly to pregnancy than others. But over time, most dogs will get used to the changed state of the owner.
Being pregnant and having a baby can be emotional for the whole household, including dogs. Knowing how sensitive dogs are, many parents-to-be wish to help them adjust to changing family dynamics. Continuing to give them lots of love, attention, and affection and being patient with them if they start to act out can help them adapt.
Asking friends, family, or even a dog trainer for support may also be a good option for people whose pregnancy symptoms impact their ability to care for their dog. Tracking symptoms like stress in the Flo app can help monitor how pregnancy may affect relationships, including those with a pet.