There’s not much that can get past a dog’s nose. They’re not just used for saying how-do-you-do: a practiced pooch can sniff out a scent trail through a busy city two days after it was created; they can smell explosives and detect contaminants in soil at concentrations lower than a single part per million.
So sensitive are some dogs’ noses, in fact, that they’re quite the little doctors. There’s a laundry list of diseases that pooches seem to be able to detect by smell alone, including multiple cancers, diabetes, narcolepsy, malaria, and most recently, COVID-19.
But what about pregnancy? Ask any number of pregnant pup-owners and they’ll say the same: ever since those two lines showed up on the pregnancy test, their dog has been acting differently around them. But is that because their four-legged friend can smell their extra passenger? Or is it just an overactive imagination on the part of the human owner?
It’s certainly true that the body goes through many hormonal changes during pregnancy – and some of those could certainly prompt a change in scent. It’s not only because of the different balance in the recipe, either: certain sex hormones, called estrogens, increase specifically to thermoregulate the body during pregnancy – that is, to make you extra sweaty.
To be clear, we’re not saying your dog can smell your pregnancy – but if they could, these hormonal changes might provide a plausible explanation for the ability.
But let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. There are plenty of other potential reasons for a change in your doggo’s behavior around your growing bump. Dogs are more tuned in to human emotions than any other species out there: they navigate their lives by our facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language; when you’re sad, or happy, or nervous, they know about it.
So, as pregnancy brings with it mood swings, fatigue, and generally feeling crappy, it’s not unbelievable that your loyal canine companion might pick up on things being a bit out of whack. Add to that behavioral changes like being more cautious of your belly, walking slower, sleeping more, throwing up in the mornings, and modifying your diet and exercise habits, and there’s a lot of potential clues for even the most nose-blind of pups to pick up on.
Then, of course, there’s the old favorite: human psychology. Just as dogs are highly tuned-in to us, we’re suckers for the lil guys in return – and we’re also absolute masters at seeing patterns that aren’t there. It’s all too easy for us to notice our pet doing something we think is strange – even if it may not be all that out of the ordinary – and subconsciously decide it’s proof of a preternatural ability to sense an oncoming addition to the family.
After all, you’re excited – doesn’t it make sense that the whole world, dogs and all, is as well?
At the end of the day, the question of whether dogs can smell pregnancy is one that we simply don’t have an answer for yet. It’s plausible – and plenty of pet owners would certainly vouch for the phenomenon – but until we have some good data on the question, we just can’t know for sure either way.