5 min read


Can Dogs Tell You are Sick?



5 min read


Can Dogs Tell You are Sick?


Most people are aware of the fantastic detection abilities of the dog. We see them used to detect bombs, drugs, and even bed bugs. We also know that they will recognize animals and people by their scent. But, they can actually do even more with their super sniffers! 

Dogs can tell when you are sick. Even more, they can detect specific diseases, such as cancer, migraines, seizures, low blood sugar, and narcolepsy. 

You don't have to have one of these conditions for your dog to show you comfort and empathy. Your family pet knows you very well and can tell when you are needing some furry companionship to feel better.


Signs Your Dog Knows You are Sick

Most of human - and even canine - communication is nonverbal. We signal our feelings and reactions with our body language. Our bodies tell more than our words. Your dog sends apparent signals with body language that is comprehensible to other dogs and humans. 

As a responsible owner, it is important to learn their signs to anticipate their needs, keep them safe, and teach others in your home how to interact appropriately with your dog. Begin by appreciating the importance of scent to your dog. The powers of scent are used by your dog to take in and interpret the environment.

Dogs will greet you and one another by sniffing. They will smell the hindquarters or the crotch. Dogs will show affection by inviting interaction. The friendly dog will initiate play with the play bow, extending the front legs and lifting their tail. You may find your dog giving you kisses by licking your hands or your face. 

Dogs have ways of communicating that they are social and appealing to others by avoiding direct eye contact. They will give sideways glances, blink, and approach to the side. If you see the dog yawning or licking the lips, it is not out of boredom. The dog is expressing appeasement.

Dogs have abilities to detect how others are feeling or reacting. They can identify facial cues in humans and other dogs. Dogs are also able to interpret vocalizations. They can recognize the meaning of facial expressions and sounds. Your dog learns your scent and your routines. They are then able to identify changes in your body that may occur when you are not at your physical or emotional best. 

Your dog will comfort you by going to you, nuzzling up close or leaning on you and staying near to you. For persons who have medical conditions, such as cancer, migraines, diabetes, narcolepsy, or anxiety, a service dog can be trained to detect changes in their status and actually offer assistance to survive their episodes.

Body Language

Some signs your dog knows you are sick are:

  • Alert
  • Sniffing
  • Licking
  • Blinking
  • Ears Up

Other Signs

More clues your dog will give if they sense illness in you include:

  • Staying By Your Side
  • Obsessive Attention To One Of Your Body Parts
  • Acting Differently Around You

The History of Dogs Being Able to Tell When We are Sick


Dogs are known as man's best friend because of the special bond that has developed over millennia. Our relationship with dogs impacts our brains, physiology, and relational capacities. Scientists pose the dog and man began our relationship many moons ago through interactions with friendly wolves. 

It is believed that because they evolved alongside us, they are more similar to us. Dogs are one of few species that can understand abstract signals. For example, dogs can understand hand signals. They can distinguish between important and unimportant words. 

Dogs are good for our health. Studies have shown that dogs can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and slow heart rates. People who own dogs are often more empathetic than non-pet owners. Children who grow up in a home with a dog are less likely to get sick. Studies have shown that persons who own dogs make friends more easily than persons who do not have a pet (probably because pooches get us out of the house and make for an easy conversation starter!)

The Science of Dogs Being Able to Tell When We are Sick


Dogs can detect scents in parts per trillion. Don't be embarrassed, but to dogs, humans stink. They can smell changes in our bodies that we are unable to detect. Scientific studies demonstrate that dogs can detect changes in our scent that can range from a tiny shift in our hormones to the release of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, released by cancer cells. These are ways that dogs are being trained to help with medical conditions.

Cancer. Dogs have been able to sniff out a variety of types including skin cancer, breast cancer, and bladder cancer. There is one famous account of a dog that was repeatedly sniffing a mole on their owner's leg that turned out to be cancerous. In a 2006 study, dogs were able to detect cancer based on breath samples across different stages of the disease. 

Narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a brain disorder in which there is a disturbance of sleep and wake cycles. A person can fall asleep in the middle of a task. A person could fall asleep and fall down or have a car accident if they fall asleep while driving. Using sweat samples, dogs can be trained to detect this condition and stand over the person to offer protection.

Migraine. Owners have observed that their dogs behave differently and are more protective when they have a headache. 

Low Blood Sugar. Dogs detect isoprene, a common natural chemical found in human breath that rises significantly during an episode of low blood sugar. Dogs can be trained to recognize the change in blood sugar and alert the person.

Seizures. There are efforts to use dogs to detect seizures. The findings are mixed at this point in time. 

Stress and Anxiety. Dogs can smell fear. Our bodies have changes in cortisol when we are feeling threatened. Dogs can then alert their handlers of the change in state, initiating actions that will support the person to manage the situation.

You don't have to have one of these conditions for your dog to tell when you are sick. These findings inform us that your dog can detect when you are not well by some indicators. You may have changes in your breath, hormones, blood sugar, or facial expressions that, alone, or together, let your dog know that something is wrong. Your attentive dog can be a loving support to you while you recover. 

Training Your Dog to Notice When You are Sick


Your dog can learn to be a good companion to you. It begins with you. It is your responsibility to understand the disposition of your dog's breed, to socialize your dog, and to use good training methods.

Socialization of the pup is critical. The pup needs to be introduced to a variety of people, sounds, and situations between the ages of 7 weeks and 4 months. 

Begin training by teaching the pup basic commands to come, sit, stay, heel, and lay down. 

Always use positive reinforcement and praise. You may find the pup will forget and you will need to back up and re-teach skills. 

Your companionship with your dog means that you have responsibilities to be a good master. Your dog will need to have time to play and exercise with you. Take good care of your dog's health. Keep regular routines and give your dog structure in the home. Provide the dog with a mat or area that belongs to the dog. This will make your dog more secure. 

If you want to go further in making your dog into a comfort dog, your dog will need to learn the skills that are promoted by the American Kennel Club Good Citizen Certification program. Comfort dogs have skills to allow others to pet and to ignore distractions. 

Or, you can just appreciate the love you share in your bond with your best friend. To make a super-lovey dog, make sure that you never turn them away when you aren't feeling well. Also, you can offer lots of extra pets, praise, and treats to reward any comforting attention they give you when you are sick.

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By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Published: 06/12/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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