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working dogs with a nose for saving lives

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan


On an earlier blog, we covered the light-hearted topic of every day pets directly saving our lives.  Along the same lines, I wanted to share with you some stories of how animals (specifically, specially trained dogs) can save our lives in a more indirect way.

I know you’ve probably seen working dogs at airports and ferry terminals, sniffing for illegal drugs. And we are somewhat familiar with military dogs that are trained to sniff out bombs. Military dogs serve a special role in protecting us from foreign danger – as evidence, Time magazine just named SEAL Team Six’s canine companion their Animal of the Year for bravely participating in the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound this year.

There are also dogs who are “employed” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use their keen noses to sniff out foreign plants or animals that are brought in to the United States illegally. These dogs are so highly alert to keeping us safe that they can even smell a tiny Oriental fruit fly, which is potentially dangerous to American crops.

It is nature that makes dogs such keen detectors – their sense of smell is up to 100,000 times better than ours. Some dogs can even “smell” cancer! German research has discovered that these bio-detection dogs can smell lung cancer on the breath of sufferers!  It seems that cancer produces volatile chemicals that dogs can be trained to detect.  At this point, dogs are still being trained just to detect cancer, not diagnose it, but as research continues, think of the potential these dogs hold! 

Medical alert dogs have been trained to detect potentially life-threatening low blood sugar levels in diabetic owners; detect when epileptics are about to have a seizure; and help narcoleptics detect when sleep paralysis is about to occur. All of this is possibly due to the uncanny ability these dogs possess to detect subtle changes in the chemical makeup of his owner’s breath. Soon, dogs may be able to detect an oncoming severe allergic episode in owners who suffer from food or insect allergies.

There is no doubt that animals are capable of contributing to our well-being, but it seems miraculous that they may be able to help us detect cancer in its early stages, or prevent anaphylactic reactions. It just goes to show us – if we keep our pets happy, healthy and safe, they will do the same for us.

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Comments
Posted by Erin Hildahl
on August 07 2013 15:04

My 1st rescue Siberian, King, learned to alert me to low blood sugars (50's)on his own, no training. My 2nd rescue Siberian, Boomer, is brilliant, but we are doing a little training to get a consistent alert.

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Chris AshtonCo-Founder and Co-CEO of Petplan Pet Insurance
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