3 min read


Can Dogs Smell Arthritis?



3 min read


Can Dogs Smell Arthritis?


Our furry friends are more than just incredibly smart animals. Dogs have senses that are much more powerful than those of us humans. Specifically, dogs' sense of smell is extraordinarily strong. Our pups are able to sniff everything from drugs to ovulating humans. Recent studies even indicate that dogs may be able to smell human illnesses - from epileptic fits to cancerous cells. Well, what about arthritis? Read on to find out!


Signs Your Dog Can Sense Arthritis

There is no doubt that dogs have super-sensitive snouts. Scientists have even suggested that by simply smelling samples of human’s breath, dogs can detect lung, breast, and other cancers with an accuracy rate of between 88 and 97 percent (the accuracy rate of a hospital scanner is between 85 and 90 percent!).
Research also shows that dogs can anticipate if a person is going to have an epileptic fit. Although scientists are stumped as to how dogs are able to pick up on epilepsy, some believe that dogs can pick up on tiny behavioral changes or scents. Others believe that dogs react to electrical activity in the body. 

Research proves that dogs are sensitive to physiological cues that are not obvious to us humans. Such cues include skin temperature and unusual scents. A painful joint with arthritis has increased heat and may emit inflammatory odors; odors that are undetectable to us humans, but scents our dogs can detect. Dogs are used in clinical medicine to pick up almost untraceable scents like the odor of cancer in urine samples – so it shouldn't be that far off that dogs can sense arthritis as well.

Body Language

Some signs that your dog senses your arthritis may include:

  • Alert
  • Whining
  • Guarding
  • Licking

Other Signs

Some other signs can be:

  • Clingy Behavior
  • Comforting Behavior
  • Nervousness


The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Arthritis


We've known for a long time that dogs have an incredible sense of smell, that sense being about 1 million times more powerful than ours! This helps explain why dogs have been used in tracking and hunting since they early domestication. 

And when it comes to smell, dogs are able to pick up on volatile organic compounds in the air. These are microscopic chemicals are emitted by both biological and man-made substances. We can smell them, too; for instance, things like paint have been increasingly regulated for potentially toxic volatile organic compounds. But because dogs have super noses, they are able to sniff out volatile organic compounds in extremely small amounts. 

When a person is sick, their body chemistry will change. Dogs are capable of detecting these subtle changes, and further understanding what they mean to a point. Dogs can even be trained to sniff out volatile organic compounds in the human body in order to help detect illnesses. 

Dogs, with their incredibly observant behavior, are able to sense human happiness and sadness as well. Dogs are able to smell and sense the rise and fall in our feel-good hormones, like dopamine or serotonin. When we are feeling blue, these feel-good hormones tend to decrease, and our dogs can tell. This can help explain why dogs are known to curl up with their depressed owners. By offering cuddles and comfort, dogs understand that dopamine or serotonin can be boosted, ultimately bringing their owners back to their happy place.

Similarly, dogs can tell if you're feeling pain or discomfort, and may try to soothe your inflamed joints with licking and cuddles. Our furry friends are very observant of our body language and facial expressions, and notice when their humans aren’t feeling well just by viewing any subtle changes in our daily routines. 

For instance, if you are feeling more tired, or stiff, your pup understands that you aren't feeling yourself. Your dog, in turn, will feel happy for boosting your mood!

Training Your Dog to Help with Arthritis


Dogs are not just companions, but can be trained for special tasks and groomed to support people who are sick. Dogs can sense when you're feeling ill or down, and in turn spend the day giving you their unconditional love. 

Training a dog to detect illnesses, including arthritis and other diseases, isn't necessarily an easy task or something you can do from the comfort of your own home. If this is something of interest, you'll likely have to train your pup with a research organization or professional animal behaviorist. 

Training in scent detection involves positive reinforcement using rewards in order to provide motivation for correct identification. You'll need to make sure your dog is already trained to be calm and focused. It is possible to train dogs to be specifically helpful with difficult tasks and also provide emotional support to help people cope with having arthritis.

Not only can a dog be an emotional support animal, but it can be very helpful to have an animal to care for, as you feel needed and loved.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

By Olivia Gerth

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

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.