working dogs with a nose for saving lives

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working dog
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Jan 12 2012

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 named SEAL Team Six’s canine companion their Animal of the Year for bravely participating in the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

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.

Sniffing out cancer

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

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.