4 min read


Can a Dog Tell if You Have Cancer?



4 min read


Can a Dog Tell if You Have Cancer?


One disease that has caused devastation over the decades is cancer. While a huge amount of research has gone into studying the disease, scientists are still looking for that elusive cure. It is not only the cure that is an issue – another problem is diagnosing the issue at an early stage when the chances of effective treatment are higher. 

Often, the cancer is not picked up until it has moved into the more advanced stages. However, over recent years, experts have realized that our pooches could play a big part in this process with studies showing that they are able to detect the presence of cancer.


Signs Your Dog May Detect Cancer

The key thing that makes dogs so adept at detecting cancer in a person is their sense of smell. There are certain smells associated with different forms of cancer, and these can be present in our urine, on our breath, and even on bodily lesions caused by the disease. However, humans do not pick up these smells during the early stages of cancer, although they can detect them in the later stages. Dogs, however, have an incredible sense of smell and this enables them to pick up on cancer smells very early on, even at stage 0.

If your dog does smell cancer, it may act very different from normal. Some dogs will keep sniffing at you constantly and you may struggle to push your pooch away. Others may lick or even bite at lesions on your body – their way of trying to get rid of the cancer for you. 

Others may constantly try to get your attention through paw tapping, whining while around you, and even staring or head tilting. You will also find dogs that simply want to comfort you and will snuggle up and follow you around more than usual. The actions of dogs that can smell cancer can vary based on the personality of the pet. 

You may also notice some body language signs displayed by your dog if it picks up on the smell of cancer. Your pooch may sit and stare quite intently at you at times or it may tap at your with its paw. Sniffing at you is a common sign, as it is the smell of cancer that the dog primarily picks up on. 

Another thing some dogs may do is follow their owners around more than usual or lie closer to them than normal. In many cases, a dog will pay far more attention to you when it senses and smells cancer, which may be its way of comforting you or alerting you to the fact that there is something amiss.   

Body Language

Some signs your dog will show if they detect cancer include:

  • Staring
  • Head Tilting
  • Whining
  • Sniffing
  • Paw Raised
  • Licking

Other Signs

<p>More cues your dog will give if they detect cancer are:</p>

  • Subdued Behavior
  • Paying You More Attention
  • Following You Around
  • Confused Behavior

History of Cancer Research and Dogs


For many decades, scientists have been hoping to make a breakthrough when it comes to finding a cure for cancer. While we have definitely come a long way in terms of treatment and care for those with cancer, experts are still looking for the cure. A lot of time has also been invested into the diagnosis of cancer, as the earlier this disease is caught, the better the person’s chances of effective treatment and survival. However, when it comes to diagnosis, many people do not realize they have cancer until it is already in its latter stages, which is often too late for treatment.

Even though the medical industry uses a range of high-tech equipment and medical techniques to try and detect and diagnose cancer as early on as possible, it has been discovered that dogs could actually prove far more efficient at doing this than machinery and equipment. 

In fact, in the studies carried out so far, it has been proven that dogs are able to sniff out cancer in humans at the earliest stages, which can play a huge part in providing effective treatment. Some dogs are known to have literally saved their owner’s life by detecting cancer early on. 

The Science of Dogs Detecting Cancer


The ability to smell cancer in its early stages all stems from dogs’ incredible sense of smell. Of course, they do not know that the smell is linked to cancer because they do not know what cancer is. 

However, they can pick up on the fact that the smell is not normal and that it is linked to something bad, which is why some dogs will try and bite away the affected area or lesions on their owners. The fact that dogs have proven so effective in terms of cancer detection means that they could play a huge part in the future of cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

Listening to Your Dog's Warnings


If you notice your dog displaying some of the signs listed above, it can be difficult to know what to do. Obviously, we cannot assume that we may have cancer every time our four-legged friends start to act strangely in front of us – after all, there could be many reasons for your pooch doing this. 

However, at the same time, if your dog is trying to tell you something, you cannot afford to ignore the signs. You should, therefore, take the time to monitor the way your dog is behaving and acting around you so that you can better determine whether there might be an issue.

There are some dogs that receive training to help them to sniff out cancer in humans, and this is done by introducing them to bodily fluids of cancer patients so that they can pick up on the distinctive smell. However, all dogs have an excellent sense of smell, so just because your dog hasn’t been specifically trained to do this, it does not mean that they cannot smell something out of the ordinary. Your dog’s behavior and actions when around you can alter because it detects that there is something that is not right.

If your dog starts acting strangely or displaying signs over a longer period of time, it is well worth taking the time to assess your health and check if there is anything out of the ordinary. You may have noticed some signs of ill health but not really thought much about it, but if your dog also appears to be picking up on a problem, you may want to delve a little deeper. Simply going along to your doctor’s for a health check can help, but you should be clear about any signs and symptoms of ill health that you may have picked up on yourself. 

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Written by a Boston Terrier lover Reno Charlton

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/22/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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