If you have a cat, you know they basically spend their waking hours silently judging you. They see every late-night snack binge, every weekend you spend lying around in your pajamas instead of being productive, every tear you’ve shed over “The Bachelor” when you thought no one was watching.
The point is, they’re super observant — and when something is up with you, they just know. So it stands to reason that your cat will figure out that you’re pregnant, right?
But are all those stories people share about their cats paying them extra close attention during pregnancy purely anecdotal? Or is there some science to actually back it up? We did some digging, and here’s what we found.
Nothing is more synonymous with pregnancy than hormones. They basically make pregnancy possible, sustain it for 9 months, and then (probably) trigger labor in a series of still-mysterious changes that lead to your baby’s birth.
An increase in hormones during pregnancy is also responsible for the majority of your symptoms, like morning sickness, fatigue, pelvic pain, and food cravings. You’re particularly under the influence of:
- hCG, aka human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone is produced in the cells of the placenta. Because your levels are so high in early pregnancy, hCG is used to confirm pregnancy in urine and blood tests.
- Prolactin and relaxin. Prolactin helps you produce breast milk and relaxin affects your uterine muscles and pelvic joints. Though both of these are important for labor and delivery, they start increasing in early pregnancy.
- Progesterone. This hormone primes your uterus before pregnancy and helps maintain a healthy pregnancy after fertilization.
- Estrogen. During pregnancy, estrogen makes a lot of the magic happen: It regulates other hormones, helps your baby develop, regulates blood flow, and causes your milk ducts to form.
There’s no evidence that pregnancy hormones make you emit any kind of odor, but we do know that other body substances — like pheromones and the hormones that surge during puberty — can release subtle (and not-so-subtle) smells, so it’s possible.
But can cats detect these odors? Well, we don’t know that, either. For sure, cats have superpowered olfactory senses: According to PAWS Chicago, cats have about 200 million smell receptors in their nose as opposed to our measly 5 million.
That doesn’t mean they can detect any hypothetical odors brought on by pregnancy hormones. But if those odors do exist, a cat’s nose could — in theory — detect them.
Your hormones aren’t the only things changing during pregnancy: You’re moody, fatigued, constantly queasy, and way irritable. Those emotional changes will affect your behavior, and your cat is pretty likely to pick up on the fact that you’re acting differently. (They’re creatures of habit, after all — just like us.)
- Fast-rising hCG levels can contribute to nausea, and if you’re spending every morning puking in the bathroom instead of feeding your cat at the normal time, they’re going to notice.
- Progesterone can make you excessively tired during pregnancy, and your cat might wonder why you’re napping on the couch so often instead of running errands.
- You’re preoccupied with plans for the baby — like designing the nursery and poring over baby-name lists — which means you have less time and energy to shine that laser pointer all over the house so your cat can chase it.
- Your blood volume and circulation increase during pregnancy, which can make your body temperature rise slightly. Your cat might notice you’re running hotter than usual (and they may even like it because cats tend to seek out warm, cozy spots).
- If you’re usually your cat’s primary caregiver, note that you shouldn’t be cleaning their litter box anymore. They might be wondering why someone else is now handling the task.
Your cat knows the garbage truck is coming to do its thing way before you do thanks to their keen sense of hearing. But we don’t know if they can actually hear your baby’s heartbeat sooner than it can be detected in other ways, like with a doppler or stethoscope.
Cats have an extra fold on their ears that may play a role in amplifying high-frequency sounds, making it possible for them to hear things we can’t.
At a certain point in late pregnancy, your partner might be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat just by putting their ear against your belly. So it’s reasonable to suspect Fluffy can hear the baby’s heartbeat from their spot nearby on the couch around this time, too.
How much sooner they can hear it, though, and how well, is still a giant scientific question mark.
When faced with major life changes, cats react in a wide variety of ways. The only thing you can expect is that your cat will react in some way to everything that’s going on — but beyond that, it’s hard to say exactly how.
- Some cats become protective of an owner who’s feeling under the weather or exhibiting different behaviors, so your cat may make more of an effort to get between you and your partner.
- Some cats turn into stage 5 clingers whenever their owners are acting weird. Your solitary cat may suddenly act like a little shadow, following you from room to room and needing to park themselves directly in your personal space.
- Some cats become total a-holes, TBH. Peeing in random places, scratching up furniture, hiding from you, refusing to eat — these are all typical rebellious behaviors from cats less than thrilled about changes in their routine.
We keep talking about cats “knowing” that you’re pregnant, but that implies a cognitive awareness that they just don’t possess. (Yes, your cat is the smartest and cleverest cat of all the cats, we know, but they still don’t actually get what’s happening.)
Your cat simply knows things are different — and, unfortunately for your cat, things are only going to get even more different when your baby is born. To prepare your cat for the changes coming, take these steps:
- Slowly introduce baby items and move furniture around in your house, especially if you’ll be ousting your kitty from any of their favorite places. You want them to get used to cribs and infant seats, but you don’t want to crowd the house all at once.
- Start playing recordings of baby noises, especially infant crying. These sounds can be stressful for cats, and you don’t want them to associate them directly with the baby when they arrive.
- Start blocking off whatever room the baby will sleep in, and place barriers or sticky tape (cats hate sticky surfaces!) around the crib so your cat doesn’t think the crib is an OK place to sleep.
- Make a plan for introducing your cat to your baby when the baby is born. It’s smart to let your cat get used to the smell of your baby first by introducing them to a blanket or item of clothing from the hospital. Then, make sure any formal introductions are heavily supervised and your cat is never left alone with your baby.
Keep in mind that stress
Be on the lookout for new vomiting, diarrhea, or food behaviors (like refusing to eat), as these may be signs your cat needs to be examined by a vet.
Does your cat know you’re pregnant? Yes and no. They don’t know what pregnancy is, but they probably know something is different about you.
Whether they’re responding to changes in smell, hearing a new but faint heartbeat, or just picking up on all the changes to the routine, we can’t say for certain.
But cats are highly sensitive and perceptive animals — it’s reasonable to think many of their super senses kick in when there’s a new human being growing close by.