Our canine friends have an enormous number of scent receptors, around 220 million. No wonder, they are legendary for their olfactory sense.
How dogs scent medical conditions
Dogs can notice the slightest of changes in human bodies caused by various systems including hormonal changes and any volatile organic compounds that our bodies release. The great news is that scientists and dog trainers are finding out how dogs smell the medical conditions in us and trying to figure out how to translate this into healthcare. The following are just a few of the many health conditions that dogs can be trained to help with.
Dogs can help people with diabetes realize that they are experiencing blood sugar levels hiking or dropping. Human breath has a natural chemical called isoprene that rises notably when a person with diabetes is going through a period of low blood sugar which dogs can detect. Trained dogs will alert their owners and give them time to take their insulin when they see that their blood test confirms the warning as accurate. Dogs do improve quality of life and safety of their handlers.
Detection of cancer
Many different types of cancer are detectable to dogs, including breast and skin cancer. Cancerous cells produce a very specific odor. In fact, in late stages of the disease, even human noses can detect it. With a sense of smell researchers estimate is between 10,000 and 100,000 times superior to ours, dogs can detect this smell far earlier in the disease’s progress—even while the cancer is still “in situ,” or has not spread from the site where it was first formed. And remarkably, they don’t need to smell the growth directly. Dogs can detect this scent on waste matter like breath.
Neurological disorders and brain disruptions
Dogs can be trained to sense disorders that affect your brain and nervous system. The human body sends out hormones through your sweat, and the dogs can pick up the changes in your scent. People prone to migraine attacks will release serotonin a couple of hours before the headache. People suffering from fear and anxiety will release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Patients with the brain disorder, narcolepsy, suffer from extreme sleepiness and delusions and can fall instantly asleep without warning.
We are so familiar with dogs being our pets, our companions and our family that we are only now realizing how much they help us with personal health challenges is astonishing. Training a dog to accurately assist with medical conditions isn’t easy — but it can be life changing.