• Rose Smith

Dogs Sniffing Out Sickness


Photo Source: Pixabay

Dogs are a universally loved pet. We play with them and care for them. However, they aren’t always just pets. They can also be extremely helpful and reliable companions for activities such as hunting, sniffing out dangerous materials, and helping guide the blind. One of the more interesting and surprising ways dogs can help humans is that they can also sniff out diseases in humans.

Dogs have much better senses of smell than people do. Dogs have 220 million smell receptors compared to humans, which only have 5 million (Understanding Animal Research). Those smell receptors are also 10,000 times stronger than humans too. With such sensitive noses, they can pick up the smallest changes in our hormones or cells to figure out something is wrong. With training, dogs have been able to pick up and accurately detect diseases such as cancer, low blood sugar in diabetics, and even preemptively letting someone know if they are going to have a seizure. At times, especially with cancer, the dog has been able to detect cancer faster and with more accuracy than traditional testing methods.

In more recent news, dogs are being trained to help sniff out Covid-19. First officially implemented the airport at Helsinki, Finland, dogs are being implemented to test incoming travelers for the disease (The Guardian). The process is easy. Passengers have to dab their skin with a wipe and hand it to an official. The official then presents the wipe along with other control scents to the dog. If the dog yelps, lies down, or paws the ground, then it has detected the virus, and the traveler is advised to take a nasal swab test to verify the dog’s verdict and react accordingly. In preliminary tests at the University of Helsinki, the dogs were able to detect the virus with extremely high accuracy, even when the patient itself hasn’t developed symptoms. According to researchers, the dogs seem to pick up a certain odor in the sweat of someone with Covid-19 that is different than a healthy person (The Guardian). If successful, national officials all over the world are hoping to start rolling these disease sniffing dogs out, as they could save a lot of money and resources worth of tests.

If we are implementing Covid-19 sniffing dogs, why haven’t we been regularly using dogs to sniff out cancer before? One reason is that the real-life setting of cancer testing is a lot different than in lab testing (Live Science). In a lab situation, dogs are able to be congratulated immediately upon finding the correct cancer sample, but the ability to verify that in real life takes more time. The reliability of the test also depends on the dog too. When someone does a cancer test with a machine, it may not be as reliable, but the reliability is the same across every test. Every dog is different, so the reliability of the sniff test is not set in stone. When implementing Covid-19 testing with dogs, these concerns will likely have to be taken into account to different degrees.

Dogs are extraordinary companions. Not only are they lovely pets, but they also help us with plenty of jobs, including sniffing out disease. Because of their unbelievable sense of smell, they can sniff out things like cancer, seizures, and even Covid-19. It’s always good to take a moment to appreciate the things that our fuzzy workers do, and we need them now more than ever.