With up to 300 million scent receptors (compared to our 6 million), dogs can smell things that seem non-existent to our senses. While we all know about their ability to find missing people and sniff out hidden drugs or bombs, they can actually detect so much more. With their extraordinary sense of smell, dogs can pick up on tiny chemical changes in the human body.
From cancer to diabetes, dogs can give us a heads up about a range of human diseases long before the test results come in, potentially saving lives due to early detection. While most dogs have an exquisite sense of smell, not all dogs are gifted with the same disease detecting qualities. According to True Activist, dogs bred for detection and hunting purposes are the best choices for the job.
Medical detection dogs, true life-saviors
Claire Guest, a scientist and animal behavior expert working with dogs to sniff out diseases for medical purposes, found a breast lump thanks to her trusty pooch. Even though the Labrador, named Daisy, hadn’t finished her medical sniffing training, she managed to alert her owner that something wasn’t quite right.
One day when they were about to go for a walk, the dog stopped and prodded Claire’s chest with her nose several times at the same spot. Hours later, when Claire could still feel pain where Daisy had pushed her, she checked the area and found a lump, which was confirmed to be breast cancer.
“The surgeon said I was incredibly lucky for it to be diagnosed so early. It was as deep as a breast cancer can be, so by the time I’d felt anything, it would’ve been too late,” she toldThe Telegraph.
Straight after the discovery, she had a lumpectomy and her lymph nodes removed, followed by five weeks of radiotherapy. Claire is now cancer-free – saved by the nose of her four-legged friend.
Dogs found to be more accurate than lab tests
After dropping out of guide school, Lucy, who’s a cross between a Labrador retriever and an Irish water spaniel, learned to detect bladder, kidney and prostate cancer. She has accurately detected cancer 95 percent of the time, which is better than some lab tests used for cancer screenings, reported True Activist.
Lucy and Daisy are not the only ones. In one study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, four trained family dogs were able to successfully detect lung cancer with an accuracy of 71 percent while correctly ruling out cancer 93 percent of the time.
In another study, five professionally trained scent dogs identified and ruled out both lung and breast cancer at all stages with an accuracy of 90 percent. And yet another study reported on a specially trained 8-year-old female black Labrador retriever who was 97 percent accurate in detecting colon cancer from watery stool samples, making it as accurate, or even better, as the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) for early detection of colorectal cancer.
Despite the high accuracy rates and swift verdicts, using dogs for early cancer detection has yet to become an accepted method of screening – and this will probably not happen anytime soon. Compared to a machine, these animals are harder to control, and maintenance and running costs are much more expensive; they need to be trained, fed and cared for.
This, however, has not stopped Claire from establishing an organization called Medical Detection Dogs, which trains dogs to sniff out different diseases including diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.