Before getting pregnant with a human baby, we’ve been proud parents of four “furbabies.” And once we conceived, my husband and I thought we noticed our current crew acting a bit... different, to say the least. Our two cats were suddenly overly and aggressively affectionate, one of our beagles now wants to snuggle on my belly (and I’m not even showing much yet), and the other beagle tries to “guard” me from the cats. Is this all in our heads, though? Do your pets know when you’re pregnant? Obviously personifying animals is nothing new in our household, so is this behavior imagined or wishful thinking?
Los Angeles-based certified dog and cat behaviorist and trainer Russell Hartstein reassures me in an email interview that it definitely isn’t all in our heads, and pets can sense something is up when you conceive. “Dogs and cats have incredibly fine-tuned olfactory glands, many times the strength of humans,” Hartstein says. “They can pick up on minute chemical changes, detect cancer, insulin levels, bombs, drugs, and menstrual cycles. They are also highly sensitive and intimate in studying their parents’ behavior and subtle movements as well.”
Journalist and ethologist Danielle Radin agrees and tells Romper it’s because your pheromones, “or the smells you emit to your pets telling them who you are, change. Animals pick up on this and are able to tell that you are expecting. This might make them more protective of you." So that definitely explains why my beagle June growls and chases the cats off the couch when they come near me now, when before she could not care less about them being around.
But what about their affectionate behavior? Hartstein says, “Animals are notorious, curious, and neophiles.” For those of you who needed to look up the word “neophile” in the dictionary like me, that means having the tendency to like or love anything new, as in having neophilia. “As your stomach grows, your pets may likely become more interested. As neophiles and with changes occurring daily on the chemical, physical, and behavioral level, it is natural for dogs and cats to not only notice, but to take an interest just as any loving family member would,” he explains.
Sure they seem to be curious and affectionate now, but what about when they’re no longer the center of our universe anymore and they have to share this new hairless baby with us? Radin says, “To introduce your baby to your furbabies, I recommend letting them smell a blanket or piece of clothing the baby has been in first. Then after an hour or so, you can gradually guide the pet to the crib to get them acquainted. This will allow your pet to slowly get used to your new baby. Soon they will be best friends.”
Hartstein adds, “I would recommend prepping before the baby comes. Desensitizing and counterconditioning your pets to the stroller, crib, baby dolls, toys, and noises — apps do a great job with this — [can help with the transition]. Hire a certified competent dog trainer or behaviorist to help in the initial stages. It is important your dog has some healthy boundaries, as well as training, well before your baby comes. And it is important to not ignore your dog or cat after the baby arrives." He also says you should never leave your baby alone unsupervised with your pet, even if they’re the sweetest most wonderful pets you know, not even for a second — especially at the beginning. You never know what might set them off, even unintentionally. This baby thing is brand new and scary for them, too.
So apparently, some training and desensitization to baby gear is in our very near future with all of our crew. And we aren’t crazy animal people making stuff up in our heads about their changed behaviors — thank goodness. Also, please don’t forget about your furbabies once your brand new bundle of joy arrives. Make a feeding, walking, and one-on-one time schedule with your partner for your pets. We all know having a newborn is a whirlwind, and this can help keep you both honest. The furbabies were in your lives first, and they still deserve to be treated lovingly and with care. Plus, with a schedule, they won’t feel left out or forgotten, making less of a chance for animosity and jealousy toward the new baby. And soon enough, they will probably all be best friends. Enjoy your full house — there’s now even more love to go around. And what’s better than that?
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