When I was expecting my first child, my daughter Violet, my longtime dog Max seemed to know something was up.
Sometimes, when I was watching TV he’d come put his snooter in my lap, so his nose was touching my burgeoning belly, and stare at me mournfully. He also inspected every, single item to enter the baby’s room. Thoroughly sniffing car seat, receiving blankets, stuffed animals, he’d then look at me like what the hell is going on here?
He knew something was up, that’s for sure. We don’t have scientific proof that pets can sense pregnancy but, come on. They have a sixth sense. If they can lead blind people, sense natural disasters before they happen and sniff out cancer, they can certainly tune into those pungent pregnancy smells and figure something unusual is happening to their owner.
Firstly, it’s possible that with their heightened senses, dogs can smell the changes in hormones and pheromones that occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy. Your pets probably don’t understand that in nine months a new baby will be joining your family, but dogs and cats do detect differences in your mood, posture, behavior, and body chemistry that clue them in to the enormous changes you’re going through. Your dog and cat will pick up other signs, too: They’re masters at reading body language, so they’ll notice when your movements start to get more awkward.
Animal behaviorist Nikole Gipps says she’s seen plenty of examples in her ten years as an animal trainer. She says it’s common for dogs to go on alert and become overprotective of their expecting owner from the very beginning of her pregnancy. She’s worked with dogs that growled, barked, or blocked doors with their bodies to prevent other family members – even the baby’s father – from coming into the same room as the mom-to-be.
Other dogs – and my Max falls into this category – treat their pregnant owner with more attention and care than usual. Nikole once worked with a woman who was placed on bedrest and her dog refused to leave her side. Had to be forcefully pushed outside to go to the bathroom.
God, I love dogs. Cats are another story.
Because they’re much less social than dogs, cats aren’t as likely to undergo any behavioral changes. Some may act out and pee where they aren’t supposed to and some cat owners report a range of responses from uninterested to more loving and protective.
To help prevent problem behaviors, try to stick to your pre-pregnancy routine as much as you can, and ask family members and friends to help when you’re not up for taking your pet on its usual walk. And don’t forget to develop a plan for your pet while you’re in the hospital.
To help your dog understand that you still love him, be careful of the messages you send through your body language. Pregnant women often unconsciously place their hands over their stomachs, and dogs read this closed-arm posture as saying “I’m unavailable” or “step back.” Open-armed postures, on the other hand, send dogs the message to “come here.”
Is your pet acting different? Do you have any pet/pregnancy stories?
Coming up tomorrow: Bringing Home Baby: Tips and tricks to prepare your pet for the new family member.