By Alexandra Anastasio
One of the amazing things about dogs is their noses and their ability to detect and remember scents, long after being exposed to the original odor. When a woman is pregnant, the hormones in her body are likely to alter her scent in some way. So, can dogs sense pregnancy? Because of their keen sense of smell, it’s believed by many that a dog can detect a change in a woman even before she does — but it’s mostly conjecture. “I suspect that dogs can smell something we cannot in a pregnant woman,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, a staff doctor at New York City’s Animal Medical Center.
She explains that dogs have 60 times as many smell receptors as humans, and 40 times as much brainpower dedicated to smell, allowing them to differentiate 30,000 to 100,000 aromas. Because a huge part of a dog’s brain is devoted to analyzing odors, dogs are able to pick up on different scents resulting from chemical changes, cancer, insulin levels, bombs, drugs, a woman’s menstrual cycle, and even pregnancy, according to Russ Hartstein, a certified behaviorist and dog trainer in Los Angeles.
How Early Can a Dog Sense Pregnancy?
While we can’t know for sure the exact moment a dog senses a pregnancy, we do know that not much gets by the canine nose. Although your pup can detect a change in scent, it’s unlikely he comprehends the reason for the change.
What he does understand is that something is different, both on a physical and behavioral level, and it’s only natural for him to take notice and show an interest. “Dogs are highly sensitive and intimate in studying behavior and subtle movements,” says Hartstein.
It’s difficult to say just how dogs will react to their owners’ pregnancies; some may become protective, others may be fearful or even completely indifferent to the situation. Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, owner of Animal Acupuncture in New York City, says many pregnant women report that their dogs are more affectionate and/or protective during their pregnancy. “It’s likely due to the scent and your hormones, as well as possible changes in your mood,” she explains.
Brooks Oscarson, who runs a parenting blog, recalls how her parents’ Vizsla would not only sniff her belly before she was showing, but also became extremely protective. “Within just a few weeks of my pregnancy, the dog’s demeanor changed,” says Oscarson. “If we were playing sports with my siblings, and he sensed things were getting too intense, he’d bark and run over to check on me.”
An innate need to protect can kick into high gear, resulting in a dog becoming highly alert to potential danger. “When I was pregnant with my twins, I could no longer walk my dogs,” says Yaffi Lvova, a registered dietician nutritionist. “The same dogs that would walk at my heel were suddenly hyper-vigilant, and it became impossible to walk them.” In order to stick to their nightly walks, Lvova had to enlist the help of a friend to hold their leashes. “If someone else was holding the leash, even a frail older lady, they were perfectly well behaved,” she says. “It was unbelievable.”
Dr. Barrack points out that changes at home will always have an effect on a dog. “Your dog is smart enough to pick up on these changes during pregnancy, both in a physical way — which is how your body will be changing, your stomach, your smell — and in an emotional way, such as your feelings and your mood,” she says.
Experts recommend preparing your pup before the baby arrives. “The healthiest of dogs will adapt well to new environments and routines, however some dogs may have a slower transition, requiring a little extra care and attention,” says Hartstein.