What Dogs Can Detect

Cindy SmithDog Health, Senior Dogs

It never ceases to amaze me what dogs can detect.  It’s because their nose and sense of smell is so much more advanced than ours. A dog has 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in ours. Also, the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times greater than ours.

Dogs have been known to sniff out conditions that doctors are not even aware of. Let’s take a look at all the conditions dogs are able to detect:

  • COVID. Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport is running a trial that lets people volunteer to be tested for the COVID virus by dogs. It is faster, cheaper and less painful than the nasal swabs, with close to 100% accuracy. Passengers who volunteer to be tested by the dog wipe their skin with a wipe and drop it into a container, and the dog reacts if they detect the virus. With COVID 19 responsible for more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, this could be a breakthrough! Many more tests are being conducted around the world.
  • Dogs have been known to detect bladder, prostate, skin, and breast cancer. A 2019 study published in Experimental Biology found that dogs can correctly pick out blood samples from people who have cancer with 97% accuracy. In another 2006 study, dogs were trained to detect cancer based on breath samples, with an 88% accuracy for breast cancer and a 99% accuracy for lung cancer.
  • Narcolepsy is a condition where a person can suddenly fall asleep, sometimes in mid task. Dogs can pick up a scent when an attack is coming on due to biochemical changes in the body. A service dog can alert a person up to 5 minutes before an attack is coming on so they can get to a safe place or be in a safe position, so they do not hurt themselves.
  • A migraine alert dog plays an important role in ensuring that migraine patients are alerted when they initially have the onset of a migraine. For migraine sufferers, knowing that one is coming on in advance can mean the difference between managing the problem or experiencing hours or days of intense pain. Dogs detect the difference physically and physiologically in the prodome phase of a migraine.
  • Low blood sugar. Diabetes assist dogs are trained to monitor smells in the air for a specific scent on the human breath that is related to rapidly dropping or low blood sugar levels. They are then trained to “alert” the person with diabetes, usually by touching them through either a paw or nudge. Research shows dogs smell a common chemical called isoprene, which is found on diabetics’ breath.
  • Anxiety attacks and PTSD. It is true that dogs can literally smell fear, as human release the hormones cortisol and adrenalin when they become stressed. Service dogs are often able to ward off panic and PTSD attacks and help to keep people calmer.
  • Seizures. Seizure alerting dogs can be used to detect an epileptic seizure up to 45 minutes before one occurs. With 3.4 million Americans suffering from epilepsy, these dogs can also guide their owners to a safe place, fetch a telephone or medication, or open a door and turn on a light. These dogs are invaluable in giving Americans with epilepsy and many other disabilities a sense of independence.
  • Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers at Manchester University are in the process of training dogs to detect Parkinson’s disease years before symptoms emerge. The work is inspired by the work of a human “super-sniffer” who detected a change in her husband’s odor six years before he was diagnosed.
  • Heart disease. Cardiac alert dogs (CADs) can detect changes in blood pressure which can be indicative of a heart attack. This is important because Individuals who undergo cardiac arrest in hospitals are four times more likely to live than those who experience heart attacks outside a hospital setting. CADs can also get individuals to a safe place if a blackout is about to occur.

Did you know that Florence Nightingale was one of the first people to realize that animals benefited her patient’s recovery in the 1860s? Since then thousands of dogs have been used in many capacities to help people recover from and manage illness, disability, and other conditions.

Dogs even help people who are not sick stay happy and healthy. Stay tuned for more updates on what dogs can do!