Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend. Since ancient times, dogs have posed as exceptionally useful animals. While they were used primarily for hunting purposes centuries ago, today dogs are domesticated animals and kept as pets. From proving effective emotional support animals to simply being a great companion for someone who feels lonely.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, an estimated 602 million households in the United States own a dog. Dogs are also the most commonly owned pets, not only in the states but also for the rest of the world.
We already know that dogs are excellent at picking up specific scents. That is why we are often sniffed by a German Shepherd before boarding an airplane.
Today, emerging scientific research is suggesting that dogs could even save their owners lives. Some scientists have discovered that dogs can actually be trained to detect, or rather sniff out, some types of diseases. This research holds important value for future studies, as it would not only allow dogs to notify their owners of possible illnesses but may even become a less invasive detection tool.
Studies Say: Some Dogs Can Detect Cancer
A study led by scientists at the Universitat de Barcelona in Spain wanted to see how effective dogs are in detecting the presence of lung cancer among a group of individuals.
Researchers noticed a difference in how the dogs reacted to people who had previously been diagnosed with lung cancer, compared to how they behaved when the dogs were exposed to patients who did not have lung cancer.
Other studies have also been performed and found that, in addition to lung cancer, dogs may also be able to detect the following cancers in some cases, especially when trained appropriately:
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Breast cancer
- Skin cancer
It is important to note here that research is not only focusing on the effectiveness of using dogs to screen patients for the presence of cancer in their bodies. There are, in fact, many other cases where a dog can recognize the presence of diseases other than cancer too.
By detecting changes in a person’s “smell” based on exposure to their breath, skin, or other bodily fluids.
One study, led by researchers at the Kyushu University at Fukuoka in Japan, found that the use of canine scent detection strategies may also be effective in providing early diagnostics for colorectal cancer. The researchers found that dogs were very accurate in detecting the presence of cancerous tumors in the colon of screened patients during the study period.
Other Illnesses That Dogs Can Detect
Several studies have already been conducted to help understand not only how dogs are able to detect the presence of certain diseases in the human body, but also to see how many illnesses can be detected, as well as how effective they are at doing so.
A scientific paper compiled by researchers at the Canine Performance Sciences Program in the United States explains that concentrations of VOC, or Volatile Organic Compounds, seem to change in the presence of pathogens in the human body. Examples of such pathogenic states may include the development of the metabolic disease, or perhaps when a person suffers an infection.
The changes in VOC that occurs in such a pathogenic state seems to impose the creation of specific odors. These odors can be detected in the patient’s breath, as well as in their urine, and links to certain illnesses.
The researchers behind this particular paper continue to explain that it has already been well-documented that dogs are able to smell out these alterations in odors caused by the VOC changes. The same smell could not, however, be detected by the human nose.
During this study, the researchers found that dogs can effectively detect the following pathogens:
- Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus, also known as BVDV
- Bovine Herpes Virus 1 (BHV 1)
- Bovine Parainfluenza Virus 3 (BPIV 3)
Other studies have started to focus on how dogs are able to recognize metabolic syndrome in patients. A large focus has been placed on diabetes in particular, as this is a serious condition that already affects millions of people around the world.
When it comes to diabetes, it should be noted that dogs also seem to be able to detect falling blood sugar levels in a patient accurately. This can be useful to ensure appropriate action is taken to avoid potential complications that may occur in the presence of hypoglycemia.
In addition to being able to potentially detect diabetes, dogs may also be useful in detecting an oncoming heart attack or even warn a person that they are about to have a seizure.
Even Untrained Dogs Can Help
A paper published in the BMJ Case Reports provides an excellent example of how a dog not specifically trained to detect illnesses may still hold this ability.
The paper describes a case of an elderly patient advising his physician of his dog’s persistent licking at a lesion that was present behind the patient’s ear. After careful examination, the physician identified the lesion as malignant melanoma.
While dogs are usually considered to be their owner’s best friend and a special companion, these animals actually have abilities that most people do not realize yet. Several studies have now confirmed that dogs can effectively smell the presence of viruses, disease, and other ailments in the human body. Some dogs are now officially trained to detect these conditions, but it is possible for an untrained dog to notice the change in smell in their owner as well.