Many dog owners swear their pets have a sixth sense. From sensing impending danger to knowing when their human is sick before they do, tales abound involving seemingly psychic canines saving the day. But while there's no question that dogs are incredibly sensitive and intuitive, it's their super-powered snout that tips them off to subtle changes we can't detect with our plain old people noses. So it makes sense that some moms claim their dogs could tell they were going into labor before they knew themselves. But is that really possible? Can dogs smell when you're dilating?
It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, according to experts — including Jeff Werber, PhD, president and chief veterinarian of the Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles.
“We have 5 million receptors in our noses, dogs have 200 million," Dr. Werber told Health. "Dogs can detect when a seizure is coming on, when a person is hypoglycemic, and they can detect cancer and fear, so there’s certainly scents they can pick up on.”
One of those scents includes pregnancy in other dogs, according to an article on Animal Planet. In fact, dogs can even detect whether another dog has had a false pregnancy through their sense of smell, which is seriously superhuman: As in, the part of a dog's brain that controls smell is 40 times larger than in humans.
When you think about it that way, why wouldn't a dog be able to smell if you were dilating? For all we humans know, dilation has a super distinct scent, we just don't know it because our sense of smell is so comparatively pathetic. Even if dogs can smell dilation, though, that might be just one of the many clues tipping them off to a baby's imminent arrival.
"Dogs seem to be able to detect when their pregnant human is about to go into labor," explained an article on famed dog trainer and NY Times bestselling author Cesar Millan's website Cesar's Way, adding that this is "most likely due to a combination of scent and changes in the human’s behavior."
Certainly, there's no lack of anecdotal evidence supporting the theory. It seems like the majority of dog-owning moms felt like their pet figured out they were pregnant even before they took a test, and tales of dogs somehow knowing a woman was going into labor abound on message boards and threads:
"She was very clingy my whole pregnancy, and the day before I went into labor, she kept nudging my belly with her head, or just rubbing her nose on my belly," wrote a BabyCenter community member of her dog. "When I actually started having contractions, she just stayed by my side until we went to the hospital!! Dogs are so intuitive, it's crazy!"
"The night my water broke my dog was extra clingy. Followed me everywhere," wrote one Reddit user.
"The craziest thing, the day I went into labor I went to the bathroom and my dog followed me in there and peed on the floor right in front of me," wrote another mom on What to Expect.
Probably not exactly the kind of hint she was hoping to get from her pet, but still a clear sign that something was up! Obviously dogs have the ability to tune in to some kind of indication that labor is near, whether that indication has to do with subtle shifts in scent or body temperature or even different sounds coming from mom's belly. (As New York veterinary technician Abel Greenbaum told Romper for a previous article, dogs can hear your baby in utero thanks to their incredibly sensitive hearing.) Of course, there's no guarantee that your dog's uncharacteristically odd behavior means it's time to pack your hospital bag. But it may very well be that once your little one is born, you'll be able to look back and connect the dots between your labor and some bizarro thing your dog started doing right beforehand.