This video on brings to my mind a couple of questions or more. The first is a well-known one namely whether cats know if their owner is pregnant. That question can go even further because you could ask whether cats can detect if their owner has become pregnant before their owner realises it. And secondly, what is it about the bellybutton of this woman that smells so interesting to a cat?
Fascination with bellybutton
I’ll take the second question first. The cat gingerly approaches her pregnant owner’s belly looking somewhat bemused by it, but interested. Very interested. And above all she is interested in that small indentation in the middle of it, namely the bellybutton. She approaches the belly, smells an area adjacent to the bellybutton, places her left paw over it, and then smells it with great care and attention. She then retreats and looks at her human caregiver as a kind of backup check.
Note: This is a video from another website which is embedded here. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.
What do we make of all that? The overriding impression that I have is that a smell is emanating from this woman’s bellybutton 💕. Or perhaps the area around it. So perhaps the woman smells different because she’s pregnant. Cats are very good at picking up changes in the environment around them. We know that they have a great sense of smell. We know that they have their rhythms and routines and notice changes in them almost instantly.
My research indicates that women do indeed smell different when they are pregnant. Miriam Greene MD, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at New York University Langone Medical Center, says that a woman’s personal aroma changes when they are pregnant. The blood supply to various parts of the body changes as does the woman’s metabolic rate. “Sweat glands are in overdrive”.
So, if we take that as gospel truth, it’s no surprise that this cat is sniffing her owner’s bellybutton. I think what’s happening here is that the cat recognises a slightly different odour to her human caregiver (in general) and investigates that smell and in doing so she homes in on the bellybutton because it is a distinct object. She is checking out whether the smell is coming from the bellybutton and it probably isn’t. It is just the overall aroma from the woman and distinctly from her belly because she has exposed it. There are no clothes covering her belly and therefore the smell from her is much more clearly picked up as a result.
That’s my interpretation of what is going on here.
Do cats understand that their owner is pregnant?
My research on this indicates that cats don’t understand that their owner is pregnant per se but they do understand that changes are taking place. And this includes the smell of the person and the appearance of that person.
Can cats detect pregnancy before the pregnant person?
I think that you’ll find different opinions here. And you probably won’t find hard science. However, one obstetrician-gynaecologist and medical adviser, Anna Targonskaya, MD, confidently says that animal behaviourists say that cats can detect pregnancy in their owner before they take a test to confirm pregnancy. She goes further and states that cats like it and they might purr and rub themselves against their owner’s legs as a consequence. It’s certainly possible that they can detect changes to the woman’s body chemistry due to the cat’s superb sense of smell.
Women undergo a change to their hormone levels in producing more progesterone, oestrogen and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormones. These all affect the person’s body odour or scent. Cats can detect it. And they might detect pregnancy before the woman confirms pregnancy.
However, a cat might not beat the woman to detecting pregnancy because apparently some women even know they are pregnant from the moment of conception. They certainly know that they’re pregnant quite early on because of various changes to their bodies. So perhaps this is a simultaneous learning from both cat and person along a similar timeframe.
Whereas the woman is relying primarily on changes to the way they feel, the cat is relying almost exclusively on smell. This is completely normal because cats rely on smell in the same way that humans rely on site. It is a major sense to the domestic cat.
Differences in behavior
Another aspect of this story is that a woman who has become pregnant will behave differently. There is no doubt in my mind that this change in behaviour will be picked up by their domestic cat. They might not know exactly what it means or what is going on but they will notice it and it will create a little bit of uncertainty, for a while, in their minds. They will probably process this change in combination with the change in scent of their owner to understand that something is afoot.