We’re all familiar with the soft, moist buttons on our pooches’ faces. It’s the cherry on top of a fluffy face, it’s cute, and it can do some serious sniffing. Dogs’ sense of smell is over 100 000 times better than human’ and they can smell things we can’t. The nosy sniffers can snort out bedbugs, diabetes, even the C word…. cancer! WOW!

Turns out that your doctor doesn’t have to be human to diagnose cancer. Studies show that dogs can smell cancerous cells. A unique odour released by the cells are early signs of cancer.

It took humans thousands of years to figure this out; it takes a dog a split-second. Eventually, in 1989, doctors at King’s Hospital in London reported a case of a woman’s pup persistently snuffling a mole on her leg. Specialists ran tests which had some stinking results. The tests confirmed the early stages of malignant melanoma – a dangerous cancerous growth.

So, your doggo knows you’re ill, even before you’ve said a word about the removal of your mole or the nasty nail pricks you’ve had to endure for the confirmation of the deadly disease. Hello, DOG-tor! The only problem with DOG-tor detection is communication. Milly can bark, roll over, jump on your lap or look at you with tears in her syrup-brown eyes, but she’ll never be able to put her actions into words.

Dogs that go for specialized training at Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine become qualified DOG-tor translators. They receive top training and go through numerous tests, where A+ is the benchmark.


How training works

At the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine there are tables with extensions holding different samples of blood plasma, one of which is spiked with a drop of cancerous tissue. A fur-doc sniffs and identifies the sample with the cancer cells and gets a tennis ball from the trainer as a reward for the completion of the procedure. The doggie slides across the room and chases the ball across the floor to celebrate a diag-NOSES with a scent of success.

Introducing DOG-tor Lucy!

Dr Lucy is a cross between a Labrador, Retriever and an Irish Water Spaniel. She failed guide dog school because random scents distracted her from her master’s path. Eventually she was kicked out for her Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)… Ag shame.  Luckily this didn’t stop her from pursuing her medical career.  She enrolled in Medical Detection Dogs and was trained to sniff out bladder, kidney and prostate cancers.

Today Dr Lucy is a highly-qualified Oncologist with a diagnostic success rate of 95%. She’s awesome and she NOSE it!

Okay, so still not sold on the idea of dogs being able to smell cancer? Let research add an air of conviction.

3 PAW-some Studies

  1. In a research study by the Pine Street Foundation, breath samples of 31 breast cancer patients, 55 lung cancer patients and 83 healthy humans were presented to five trained doggies. Dogs detected breast and lung cancer with 90% accuracy. They deserve a certificate.
  2. According to U. News & World Report, a black Labrador named Marine was able to detect colon cancer in a study of 200 humans suffering from this disease with what seems a farfetched 97% accuracy. He was even more accurate than the blood tests were!
  3. In Milan, Humanitas Research Hospital took urine samples from 320 men with prostate cancer and 357 healthy men. The sick men had different stages of the disease from low-risk to high-risk tumours. In the group without prostate cancer, some patients had other diseases, including other types of cancer. Two dogs were used for this study. Taken together, the dogs had an accuracy rate of 98 percent.

Dogs & Diabetes

Do you have diabetes? Your canine can very likely smell an abnormal drop in blood sugar levels which happens to type 1 diabetes patients. Low blood glucose — hypoglycaemia or “hypo” — can occur suddenly. As a result, charities like Medical Detection Dogs train dogs to act as “medical alert assistance dogs” that tell owners when they’re at risk of a hypo attack.

So, canines have natural life-saving senses. Bet you’re wondering what your fur-ball is sniffing right now? Hmm…hopefully the aromas of healthy blood cells. You know, the good stuff!