Medical conditions that dogs can detect is a popular topic. We have all heard miraculous stories of how a heroic family dog saved someone’s life. Sometimes, the dog realizes the house is on fire.
Amazingly, he wakes the family just in time to escape the roaring flames. Or, maybe the faithful friend jumped into the swimming pool to save a drowning toddler who fell in unnoticed.
Are you aware that there are medical conditions that dogs can detect? Sometimes, they do so even before they have been diagnosed? Dogs often give their humans an early warning about many diseases.
A few of the detected diseases are seizures, low blood sugar, migraines, and cancer. It may be due to their keen sense of smell. They have scent receptors in the range of 220 million. These receptors allow them to detect odors 44 times greater than humans.
Dogs can separate vast degrees of subtleties in various scents. Furthermore, some fragrances can be detected in parts-per-trillion. It is amazing how many medical conditions that dogs can detect. This is all due to their powerful sense of smell.
Cancer is a terrifying diagnosis for anyone to receive. So, it is no surprise that a cancer-detecting dog gets a lot of press. This is the condition for which dogs are most famous for discovering. Also, the dogs are not limited to detecting just one kind of malignancy.
Bladder, breast, and skin cancer seems to be the most common malignancies detected by dogs. But other types of cancers have been noted as well, although to a lesser degree.
Magazines periodically share stories about a dog obsessed with some part of a human’s body. The dog typically sniffs and paws at the area repeatedly. Finally, it gets to the point that the human begins to wonder why.
Sometimes, they even become annoyed with the dog’s persistence. When they” just happen” to have an appointment with a physician, they are shocked to learn they have cancer.
Then it dawns on them. This is the exact place upon which their dog is fixated. How could he know, they wonder.
Next comes the realization that their dog has been trying to point this out to them all along. This is what happened to my dear friend. She was my college apartment-mate and our maid of honor.
We are so thankful for her dog’s persistence. His warning helped her to get the medical care she needed before it was too late. She and he have a strong bond to this day.
Serious Research On Cancer Detecting Dogs
Throughout the past few decades, there has been serious research conducted on this topic. The concept of a “cancer-sniffing” dog caught the attention of researchers and the public-at-large.
This was especially true with dog lovers. Stories began to pop up on YouTube, Facebook, and other online sites. You have probably seen one or more stories on this topic.
Although the first dogs detecting cancer did so spontaneously, other dogs have learned to do so. Some of the studies on cancer-detection trained dogs to detect the disease.
Once trained, the dogs could differentiate between samples. They can identify those samples from people known to be cancer-free and those patients with cancer.
The inability of the brain to control a person’s sleep/wake cycles is a brain disorder known as narcolepsy. Several well-known comedy routines have made fun of this neurological disorder.
However, it is a dangerous disease. I am sure you can imagine a situation in which an individual falls asleep suddenly, without any warning.
The person is usually in the middle of doing something active when they have an episode of narcolepsy. Think of the danger this poses to people.
They could injure both themselves and others if it occurs while they are driving. Would they be safe to work on top of a house, replacing a roof?
Some professions, such as an airline pilot, would not be safe for someone with narcolepsy. However, with proper precautions, perhaps other career options would be possible.
Some careers would be acceptable as long as safety measures were in place. Having a dog able to warn the person, before a seizure occurred is one of those measures.
Results from studies evaluating this possibility are available. One such study was published by Luis Dominguez-Ortega, M.D., Ph.D. in 2013.
This study reported on how two trained dogs detected 11 out of 12 narcolepsy patients. The dogs detected a scent that is distinct for narcolepsy in the person’s sweat.
Some people who suffer from migraines have an aura, This is a physical warning before the migraine occurs. For some people, this can be a visual aura. The changes in their vision may be like looking through a kaleidoscope.
Or, they may have a dark spot in the middle of their visual field. The most dramatic of them may temporarily lose their vision altogether. When vision becomes vividly colorful, scrambled, or fractured, it may be an aura preceding a migraine.
The migraine sufferer needs to be ready for any visual changes that could cause a severe problem for them. However, being able to stop the migraine with rapid therapy is also essential.
If the patient is warned in time to treat the migraine early enough, they may avoid several days of extreme pain. This also allows them to avoid missing days of work.
Some migraines render the person unable to work or function in most capacities. They should not be driving or caring for children, for example.
A recent retroactive study was reported in Psychology Today. They questioned 1027 dog owners who suffered from migraines.
Of those participating, 54% noticed that their dog’s behavior changed either during or prior to them having a migraine. There are some dogs who can reliably pick up on signals that a migraine is coming.
Low Blood Sugar (or Hypoglycemia)
There is a massive number of diabetics in our country. So, there is an increasing need for more ways to pick up on this potentially dangerous problem.
Dogs are capable of detecting when a person’s glucose (blood sugar) is either falling or spiking higher. Either situation can cause significant issues requiring medical attention if not corrected quickly.
If left untreated, glucose that is too high or too low can be fatal. Detecting shifts in blood glucose before it reaches an extreme level is critical. One organization, Dogs4Diabetics, provides extensive training to carefully selected dogs.
They are taught to detect changes in blood sugar predictably and to alert a handler of such changes. Then, they are placed with diabetics dependent upon insulin.
The medical journal, Diabetes Care, published a 2016 study which reported that dogs can detect isoprene. This is a common and naturally occurring chemical found in human breath.
Isoprene significantly rises when a person’s blood sugar drops. Dogs can detect the increase of Isoprene. This allows them to notify the diabetic that their glucose is dropping before it is a crisis situation.
Seizures, before and after the fact
The ability of dogs to predict a seizure is a bit more controversial. There is a growing body of evidence for dogs detecting a seizure before its onset.
However, its accuracy and predictability are lacking. Until we have either a scent or other method of detection with which to train them, this is not a realistic option.
However, dogs can be trained to assist the person once a seizure has begun to occur. Dogs have been trained to respond and to assist when seizures do occur.
Below is a link to a story where a little boy has several medical conditions, including nocturnal seizures. He has a medical alert dog trained to assist him.
When his dog became ill and needed treatment, the child sold his toys to help pay for it. https://excellentdogsclub.com/a-young-boy-sells-all-his-toys-to-save-his-service-dog/
Fear And Stress
Dogs can smell fear. They can also pick up when humans have an increased level of stress. Dogs so so even when the human does not display any outward indication of anxiety or stress.
Dogs pick up the scent of specific hormones released by the human body when in a stressful situation. The two most prominent and predictable stress hormones released and detected are cortisol and adrenaline.
The detection of either of these hormones alerts the dog that the person needs assistance. Dogs can signal the person to breathe more slowly and deeply. Or, sometimes it is even better when they offer comforting cuddles as needed.
On A More Personal Note Regarding Medical Conditions That Dogs Can Detect
Is having a dog capable of detecting cancer a two-edged sword? Would you be comforted or anxious if your dog had this capability?
Would you question the dog’s attention to your body? Might you worry if you had cancer or would you just assume he only wanted to cuddle or get your attention?
I am not completely sure how I would feel. I think I would prefer to have an independent evaluation, so to speak. Having a dog previously unknown to me picking up on cancer might not provoke the same emotional reaction.
It makes for a dramatic story to have your dog play a role in potentially saving your life. Still, I think I would rather have my dog comfort me with cuddles. I might prefer to leave the detection to the trained cancer-sniffing dog. How about you?
The bottom line is that I am thankful for dogs that can save the lives of people by detecting cancer. These dogs detect cancers earlier than would have otherwise been known about and treated.
It would be a blessing to have cancer discovered early. This is true, regardless of whose dog was responsible for detecting the cancer.
Having a dog trained to help me manage a medical condition is quite another thing altogether. I can totally get on board with that kind of help from my dog. How about you?
Other Articles Dealing With The Medical Conditions That Dogs Can Detect
Here is an article detailing a study in which dogs identified people under stress. https://happymutt.org/study-shows-your-dog-feels-when-you-are-upset-and-in-need-of-help/
Photos courtesy of Pixabay