Our dogs are absolutely amazing creatures. They can tell when we are having a tough day and they instantly react by giving us extra affection and cuddling up with us. It is like they know exactly what we need from them. But it goes farther than them sensing just our emotional feelings.
We have all heard the stories from dog owners about their dogs ability to sense that something wasn’t quite right with them.
Many times, it would start out by their dogs acting funny, or staying super close to them in an odd way. This strange behavior from their dogs leads their owner to go to a doctor to get checked out.
For many years, doctors have seen dogs ability to sense when their owners or someone they love becomes sick. Is this a real thing, and if so how do they do it? Can dogs sense illness?
The nose knows
All of it starts with our dogs noses. Dogs noses are 10,000 to 100,000 times better than our nose.
A dogs nose is shaped long and skinny. This particular shape allows a dog to have an increased surface area that allows them to sniff out molecules in the air. They can use their nostrils on the right or left side to sniff things in the air that we don’t smell.
Dogs have close to 300 million receptors in their nose, unlike us who have approximately 6 million. Our dogs brain works in tandem with their nose receptors to sniff out different scents that they encounter along the way. Compared to humans, dogs brains and smelling abilities are far greater than our own.
There are 2 chambers that dogs use when they breathe in a scent. They are the lungs and the olfactory receptors. The smaller portion of the air breathed in goes into the olfactory center that is filled with turbines that are small bony structures in our dogs nose. These tiny bones act like a strainer for the turbines to connect with the brain to classify each separate scent.
They breathe in new scents and then exhale the old scents out the slit in the center of their nose. This is why dogs are constantly sniffing and smelling all day long.
Dogs left and right nostril allow dogs to identify a particular scent depending on which side of the nose it comes from. It then helps them determine the spot of the wonderful scent they smell.
History of dogs nose abilities
Going back in history to the 1800s and possibly even earlier than that. Humans have capitalized on dogs noses and sniffing ability. We started taking advantage of their abilities and started using dogs to first assist blind people. By helping the blind get around it greatly improved their quality of life.
Around this same era, police began using dogs abilities to help them sniff out criminals. When we look at a specific example from 1888 police used dogs to assist them in the Jack the Ripper case, to try to solve these horrific crimes.
In today’s world dogs are an important part of the police force, the military or as service dogs to aid people in distress from PTSD and even anxiety.
Dogs in the military are trained and used as bomb sniffing dogs. They can alert the soldier that their is a danger ahead which allows the soldier to find and disarm the bomb before it goes off.
There are even dogs now that can be used to help diabetics that require insulin. They help identify when their blood sugar starts to dip to low. They can sense when the diabetic starts to act funny, by giving them a nudge to let them know to check their blood sugar.
How do they sense when someone is sick
Over 30 years ago there was a case of a woman who reported that her dog kept sniffing a spot that she had on her skin. Her dog was constantly sniffing that particular spot so the lady decided to go to the doctor to get it checked out.
Sure enough, the spot turned out to be the early stages of a malignant melanoma cancer that was caught so early that it was completely curable. So thanks to her dog, she was able to be treated early and it saved her life.
The doctors started to try to figure out why and how a dog was capable of detecting her cancer so early.
When a human is sick either with cancer or a serious illness, our body omits changes in our VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds. Basically a chemical change happens in our body. It has been shown that these changes in our VOC or metabolic changes are what the dog is able to detect.
In an even more impressive test, dogs are able to sniff out prostate cancer by simply sniffing the urine of a sick patient.
How do they do it? Doctors believe that dogs are detecting the VOC sarocosine which is just a by-product of amino acid synthesis. This particular VOC is a bio marker for prostate cancer. The dog can smell the change in the urine and detect that these men have prostate cancer.
These medical detection dogs are capable of assisting doctors and are highly trained dogs. This training can cost upward of $25,000 per dog.
As much as we would love to see our dogs in white lab coats in hospitals and clinics, the cost makes them a high commodity in the health region. Due to the cost to date this method of using dogs to assist doctors isn’t really being used that much.
The hope is that as we find out more about what a dog can do to help the medical community it will be more common than it currently is.
Scientists build an electronic dog nose
I know it seems far-fetched and years away, but scientists believed, that they could build an electronic version of a dogs nose.
An engineer named Otto Gregory from the University of Rhode Island and his students have already built a digital dog nose, that can detect explosive devices. The best news is that it actually works.
So we may not be centuries away from building an electronic device that detects cancers and other serious illnesses.
The main issue is finding out the exact thing that dogs are able to do to sense serious illnesses and recreate that. Once we determine exactly how they can use their nose in every single case, we hope to be able to build a device that acts and operates the way a dogs nose does.
Recently there has been some research that has been done that shows 5 trained domestic dogs were able to accurately sniff out 99% of the people with lung cancer and 88% of people with breast cancer. This was done simply by smelling the people’s breath.
Although we are not all the way to completely understanding every step and action of what a dogs nose can do. We are really making huge strides in that direction.
Our dogs nose
Your dogs nose is an important part of their overall health. It is important that we allow our dogs to constantly encounter new smells. Getting them out and about ensures that they constantly are using their noses to connect to the world around them.
Through all the scientists research and time spent on dogs and their noses, they have proven that yes dogs can sense illness in people. It is a fascinating thing to think about.
Can your dog sense when you are unwell or not feeling well?
My dog Finn has a nickname we call him “Dr. Finnegan.” Why do we call him that, well to be honest, he is that dog that can sniff out any cut, scrape, sickness or time when you are feeling unwell.
I believe that he is that dog that could sniff out if there was something seriously wrong with me or my partner. He has already proven that with small illnesses and he has truly proven to me that dogs are capable of identifying things that we may not even know about our own health.
Listen to your dog and be aware that if they sense something is wrong, go get it checked out and make sure for yourself.
Dogs truly are amazing animals. I believe that they have been put on this earth to provide companionship, love, to teach out about unconditional love and most importantly protect us from things we may not even see.
Dogs really do make you happier.