4 min read


Can Dogs Predict Death?



4 min read


Can Dogs Predict Death?


Recent advancements in the world of medical research have led us down a road of discovery surrounding a dog’s ability to detect certain diseases, disabilities, and illnesses. All of these discoveries have helped us to better understand how exactly it is our pooch seems to know something is wrong with us before we know ourselves.

With miracle stories floating around the internet, it’s hard to know whether or not dogs really have a sixth sense that allows them to predict death before it comes. Is this true though? The short answer is no, dogs don’t have a sixth sense. Interestingly enough, they actually just happen to have heightened sensory abilities that allow them to detect disease and illnesses before we can. This, in turn, makes it appear as if they can predict the arrival of the Grim Reaper himself. 


Signs Your Dog is Detecting Impending Death

There is a reason why dogs are man and woman's best friend, that being, they can just read us so well. Whenever something is up, our pups always seem to know it. Not only do they acknowledge us at our lowest times, but they also always seem to just know what to do to make things better for us.

Research in the field of animal behavioral science has found that dogs do, indeed, react to an individual when they sense they are ill. Whether it be a common cold, cancer, or even imminent death, dogs tend to become attentive and comforting to the ill person. They are likely to provide uplifting kisses and warm cuddles, while they lay in a somewhat protective manner with their ill companion. The energy level of a dog during this time is likely to match that of the person, seeming somewhat lethargic or tired. 

Body Language

Some signs that your dog is detecting someone is ill or that death is imminent include:

  • Staring
  • Guarding
  • Ears Drop
  • Pacing

Other Signs

Some other signs you may notice if your dog is detecting impending death, an illness, or some form of a disease include:

  • Comforting Behaviors, Such As Your Dog Cuddling With The Sick Individual
  • Sleeping On Or Relatively Close To The Sick Individual
  • Displaying Guarding Behaviors
  • Maternal Behaviors, Such As Licking, Or Nudging The Sick Individual

The History of Dogs Predicting Death


Recent medical advancements have allowed animal behavioral scientists to learn in greater detail just how capable a dog is at detecting illnesses. As you will learn more about in the science section of this article, although dogs do appear to possess the ability to predict death or illness, they are actually just capable of detecting clues about the condition prior then we are. This, of course, makes it appear like a prediction.  

For instance, a variety of scientific studies conducted throughout the past 20 years have come to show dogs can detect certain cancers and medical conditions before patients are even aware of their existence. Most studies focus on canines' olfactory abilities, as their noses are one way they can detect illness and disease.

One study conducted in 2006, focused on training five dogs to detect breast cancer in patients with an 88 percent accuracy rate just by smelling samples of their breath. In the same study, these dogs were 99 percent accurate at detecting lung cancer in a separate group of patients, and miraculously, they did not identify any false positives in the study. 

What does this tell us? This, along with the studies that proceeded and followed it, show that dogs are like medical machines, as they certainly have the ability to detect disease. The history of dogs’ actually predicting death is one that is full of personal, anecdotal stories of dogs becoming more nurturing prior to death. Only recent research is now shining a brighter, more objective light on our understanding of how man’s best friend has the ability to detect specific diseases. 

The Science Behind Dogs Predicting Death


Are dogs like fortune tellers in that they can actually predict if someone is going to die? The simple answer to this question is no. The more complicated explanation lies in a pooch's superb sensory abilities that actually allow them to detect odors associated with illness and disease, ultimately making it appear as if they can predict death itself. 

For starters, dogs can detect what are known as VOCs or volatile organic compounds, which are present in individuals with illnesses and diseases, including cancer. Dogs are also known to notice subtle changes in human body chemistry through their ability to detect pheromones and other odors being emitted by the sick individual. 

How, you might ask? Well, for starters, dogs have an olfactory system far superior to our own. This is due to the unique vomeronasal organ they have, that we don't, giving them a heightened sense of smell. Not to mention they have over 250 million olfactory neurons detecting each and every scent molecule that enters their nose, and then quickly sending that information to their brain to process. 

It's impossible for your pooch to actually know what illness you have, but regardless, they do definitely notice a change in you, and based off their caring and nurturing behavior, they know the change is not good. Dogs can be trained to detect certain types of diseases, such as lung cancer, merely by smelling the breath of someone with lung cancer. 

Evidently, dogs can detect illness and, therefore, they may appear to have predictive abilities when it comes to death. Whether or not they know someone is dying remains a mystery, but the science does tell us canines do certainly have the olfactory ability to know when something is wrong with humans, even before we do ourselves!


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Tips to Consider if Your Dog Shows Predictive Behaviors of Death:

  1. Don't panic. Dogs can show signs of nurturing and comforting behavior in a variety of situations - it does not mean you have a deathly illness if they are giving you some love.
  2. Don't punish your dog for seeming to be overly loving and protective when you know nothing is wrong. Your pup is only looking out for you.
  3. If your pup is showing consistent lethargic behavior, laying by your side and appearing tired, it may best to visit a veterinarian to be sure they are okay.

By Becky Widdifield

Published: 07/11/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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