The Best Boys and Girls: Disease sniffing dogs

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Dogs can help with a multitude of issues, including sniffing out disease.   Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith

Dogs can help with a multitude of issues, including sniffing out disease.

Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith

Man’s best friend. When someone says this phrase, we immediately know exactly what they are talking about. They are fluffy creatures that sprint as fast as possible to jump on us and lick our faces when we come home. They are fuzzy animals that flop on their backs so we can rub their bellies. They love us unconditionally and will do anything for us. They are dogs. 

From simple domestic pets to service animals to working members of police and military, dogs do a lot for humans. Recently, dogs are even able to help sniff out diseases. 

This is an incredible finding. The implications this research can have in the future are vast, as perhaps dogs could even work to detect disease in very early stages. That way scientists and other medical professionals can work to find out a way to attack the disease and maybe even cure it before it is much too late. 

As service animals, dogs have been used to detect things such as upcoming seizures in someone who has epilepsy. This was affirmed in 2018, when French researchers teamed up with a U.S. based group called “Medical Mutts.” Their study consisted of collecting sweat and breath samples from people who had epilepsy. Certain samples were taken during or immediately after seizures. Even without being trained, the dogs were generally accurate in identifying which samples had the scent of a seizure.

More recent research shows dogs can detect seizures as long as 45 minutes before they occur due to their incredible sense of smell. Dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors, which is about 50 times the number of receptors that humans have. 

This does not just pertain to seizures; there have been various reports of dogs being able to sniff cancer, malaria and Parkinson’s disease. They are able to do this because the afflicted cells often smell different from the healthy cells

Early detection in many diseases is extremely important. For example, stage I cancer means the abnormality is very localized and small. As the cancer cells multiply and migrate, the stages increase. The earlier a disease such as cancer is detected, the higher the chances it can be treated, and the patient can become cancer-free. With dogs that are able to detect diseases at these early stages, treatment options will become much more effective, and the chances of survival will be much higher.  

Training dogs to be able to sniff out disease all over the world would help a lot of people — it would give scientists and doctors more opportunities to find cures for many diseases, and it would save a lot of people’s lives. 

Currently, there are dogs working as medical detection dogs in many places.  In Vancouver, dogs are working to detect the pathogen called Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which is a very dangerous pathogen that can lead to inflammation of the colon, which could subsequently lead to death. A dog named Angus is working in a Vancouver hospital in order to detect this pathogen. Because of Angus, the rate of patients contracting C. diff has declined.  

In England, dogs are being trained to detect malaria. Due to the prevalence of malaria in many nations in Sub-Saharan Africa especially, dogs being able to detect malaria could improve many people’s lives in this area. 

In the future, if dogs are successfully able to identify a multitude of diseases, it could be revolutionary in the medical field. With these good boys and girls, perhaps diseases such as cancer, malaria and many others can be detected early—and one day—even cured. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.


 Anika Veeraraghav is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anika.veeraraghav@uconn.edu.

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