Can Dogs Sense if Someone has Cancer?

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Introduction

Cancer - it's one of the most terrible words in the English language. Most people know at least one person that has been affected by this devastating disease. There have been some breakthroughs in treatment and detection, but cancer still claims many, many lives every year. 

So, how can your dog possibly tie into this? It turns out, dogs actually might be able to sense certain kinds of cancer. Read on to find out more!

Signs Your Dog can Sense Something New About You

To say there are absolute positive signs that a dog can smell cancer in someone would be wrong. We do know though, that dogs have an incredible sense of smell. So, if your dog is sensing something different about you, they'll probably start off by sniffing you. 

There has been some research done that says dogs can smell chemical changes in humans. So, they like to sniff things out. Your dog might also be very alert and stare at you. Some dogs have even been known to lick an affected area of a human’s body - but this isn’t every dog. Of course, every dog reacts differently, so your dog might do something completely different. These are just general things a dog might do.

If your dog wants to comfort you (because they sense you're sick or sad), you'll notice a few very sweet things. They might jump up to sit by you. Some dogs love to cuddle up, too! They might also nuzzle you and “give you kisses” - aka lick you affectionately. Some dogs aren’t super cuddly, but they might watch you intently and follow you around the house. Again, every dog is different, and you know your dog best. So, if it seems like they are trying to comfort you, they probably are.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog senses something different about you:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Sniffing
  • Licking

Other Signs

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog is trying to comfort you:
  • Jumping up to sit next to you
  • Cuddling
  • Nuzzling
  • Licking you
  • Watching you intently

History of Dogs and Cancer

Cancer has been around for a very, very long time. In fact, for as long as humans can remember. In all of this time, humans haven't come up with an absolute cure for all cancer. Some people are lucky enough to survive, with treatment, others are not.

Interestingly, there is a story that The Guardian published that detailed the experience of a veterinary student and her dog, who sensed her owner’s cancer. The dog owner had some special medical issues, and so her pup was trained to assist her. 

Her dog did everything from retrieving heart medication to alerting her owner when the phone was ringing. One evening, her dog jumped up and started licking her owner and nuzzling her chest. It scared her owner because the dog usually did this when she had a cut or other wound. So, she saw a doctor the next day, and it turned out, she had breast cancer.

Dogs themselves can get certain kinds of cancer as well. Even if they don't get it, dogs' lives can be influenced by it if they lose someone to cancer and end up in a new home or even a shelter. So, it's more than humans that are affected by this disease. There are sad stories of dogs ending up in shelters after their owners pass away. There are happier stories where they end up with other family members too, which is what is always hoped for after they've lost a beloved owner.

Science Behind Dogs and Cancer

This is not an uncommon thing in the world of oncology. In fact, there has been research done that shows that dogs are able to detect several kinds of cancer. This is due to their incredible sense of smell. 

Animal Planet reported that in 2004, a researcher named Dr. Lichtenfeld published research that showed dogs were able to sniff out bladder cancer in 41% of patient samples. More research, done later by the Pine Street Foundation, noted that dogs could sniff out breast and lung cancers 88% and 97% of the time, respectively. 

Lastly, a study done in 2011 in Japan noted 98% of the time, dogs sniffed out colorectal cancer simply by smelling breath samples of the affected subjects. Animal Planet goes on to note that while these studies are impressive, dogs are just being used for research purposes for now - not actual cancer detection, unfortunately.

Training Your Dog to Sense Cancer

Dogs can be trained to do remarkable things. They can be taught to help a disabled person, sniff out drugs, or even do fun things like tricks, but can you train your dog to smell cancer? If you believe the research, dogs can, in fact, sniff out cancer, but there isn't much “how to” information available to an everyday citizen. Plus, dogs' ability to sniff out chemical changes in humans is something that comes along with having sharp senses, then being trained to communicate them in a way humans will understand.

You can, however, keep your dog's senses sharp by taking good care of them. Every dog needs to be fed a balanced diet and be given plenty of clean water. Keep your dog clean, trimmed, and up-to-date on their shots. It's also important they get plenty of exercise. So, be sure to take them for regular walks to get all of their energy out. Dogs also love to be loved. So, give your pooch plenty of attention and playtime with you. This should all help in keeping their senses sharp and in keeping them healthier, longer.

Cancer is a sad reality of the world we live in, and yes, it does appear, according to research, that a dog can sniff out cancer in a human. However, one of a dog's biggest impacts right now might simply be comforting their loved-one as they go through treatment.

How to React to Your Dog Smelling Cancer:

  • If your pooch is showing an area on your body special attention, don't write it off as nothing.
  • If your dog has, in fact, correctly detected cancer in you, cherish them!