Animals and Your Health: Dogs as Disease Detectors

Dogs protect and love us. But there may be other uses for our furry friends. Recent research suggests that they can detect seizures and cancers like melanoma and prostate cancer.

Seizures

Some owners have found that their dogs alert them before a seizure. But there has been little research on how they might do this. Some people believe that dogs know their owners well enough to notice small scent and social changes. This has some people looking at whether these skills could be taught.

Researchers in the United Kingdom found that people using specially trained dogs reported fewer seizures. The results show promise, but it may have more to do with traits some dogs have rather than something that can be taught. More research must be done to find out what these dogs are detecting and how it may be used in the hospital setting.

There is no doubt that these dogs can alert help, help lower the risk of harm, and watch over a person when they have a seizure. But the Epilepsy Foundation urges people to wait until research supports a training program for dogs.

Detecting Cancer

Some owners have also stated that their dogs sniffed out their cancer. Research supports the theory that dogs can smell cancer. Some dogs have been trained to find cancer. The real promise may be in learning how dogs can do this and creating technology that can do it, too.

Next Steps

Dogs may never be used in the doctor's office. But learning about the ways dogs smell a seizure or cancer cells can help us make technologies to do it as well. Medical “sniffing machines” have already been created and are giving us insight into the smells of disease for disease detection.

RESOURCES

National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.gov

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
http://www.ninds.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Epilepsy Canada
http://www.epilepsy.ca

Epilepsy Ontario
http://www.epilepsyontario.org

REFERENCES:

Can dogs smell cancer? InSitu Foundation website. Available at: https://dogsdetectcancer.org/can-dogs-smell-cancer. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Seizure alert dogs. Seizure Alert Dogs website. Available at: http://www.seizure-alert-dogs.org. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Seizure dogs. Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at: https://www.epilepsy.com/living-epilepsy/seizure-first-aid-and-safety/seizure-dogs. Accessed October 27, 2021.

Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 10/27/2021