If there’s someone Elisabeth Dunn Price could count on during her pregnancy, it was her dog Biscuit. "He won't leave the bathroom to eat or drink. He stays with me, even if it's for eight to 12 hours at a time," she said at the time.
Biscuit, who was fostered by the family when he a puppy, was finally adopted by the Price’s after they couldn’t help falling in love with him. “He is very sweet, cuddly, and loves attention,” Price told The Dodo. “He wants to be right in the middle of whatever is going on. He's basically a toddler.”
When Price was 36 weeks pregnant, she was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that causes severe nausea. Biscuit, who instinctively knew his mom wasn’t feeling well, was faithfully by her side throughout the ordeal. Since Price spent a lot of time in the bathroom, Biscuit was there to comfort her unconditionally.
“It doesn't matter if I'm sick all night, he will stay by my side,” Price said. “He won't sleep unless I'm in bed. He won't leave the bathroom to eat or drink. He stays with me, even if it's for eight to 12 hours at a time. He frequently doses off leaning against me, only to quickly awaken and resume his duty of watching me.”
Price began bringing Biscuit’s food and water into the bathroom with her because she knew he would go without in order to not leave her side. “He is my shadow,” Price said. “He is always with me when I'm sick, day or night. Even when I'm not sick, laying in bed watching TV or something, he is pressed against me. He is always watching me even if he's across the room. I'm never out of his sight.”
Price, who gave birth to a son, Noah, knows that Biscuit will protect his baby brother just as he has his mom. “I think they will be best friends,” Price said.
Because dogs have a heightened sense of smell, they tend to know when a woman is pregnant since her hormones are likely to alter her scent. Some experts believe dogs often sense a woman is pregnant before she even knows. “I suspect that dogs can smell something we cannot in a pregnant woman,” said Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, a staff doctor at New York City’s Animal Medical Center.
Hohenhaus said dogs have 60 times the number of smell receptors as humans, and 40 times the brainpower devoted to smell, which allows them to differentiate 30,000 to 100,000 scents. Given that a large part of a dog’s brain is dedicated to identifying smells, dogs can detect different scents related to chemical changes, cancer, insulin levels, bombs, drugs, a woman’s menstrual cycle, and even pregnancy, said Russ Hartstein, a certified behaviorist and dog trainer in Los Angeles.
When a woman becomes pregnant, dogs may sense a scent change, although they may not know what the smell means. However, they will know that something has changed on a physical and behavioral level, therefore, they will take notice and show more interest. “Dogs are highly sensitive and intimate in studying behavior and subtle movements,” said Hartstein.
Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, owner of Animal Acupuncture in New York City, said pregnant women often report that their dogs have become 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 said.
Brooks Oscarson, who publishes a parenting blog, said her parents’ Vizsla would not only sniff her belly before she began showing, but also became exceptionally protective. “Within just a few weeks of my pregnancy, the dog’s demeanor changed,” said 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.”
Given this innate need to protect, a dog can become extremely alert to potential dangers. “When I was pregnant with my twins, I could no longer walk my dogs,” said 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 maintain their nightly walks, Lvova would have to walk with a friend, who would hold the leashes. “If someone else was holding the leash, even a frail older lady, they were perfectly well behaved,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
Dr. Barrack said that any changes in the home environment will naturally affect 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 said.
Experts say dog owners should prepare their dogs 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,” said Hartstein.