While you think of your dog as a part of the family, you’ve probably never thought of Spot as a member of your medical care team! Although the idea may seem a little far-fetched, dogs could have an important place in the future of medicine. Our furry friends already play a critical role in disease management, helping patients stay in the comfort of home rather than in the hospital. Now, by harnessing the incredible power of the canine nose, physicians may be able to diagnose certain diseases earlier on in their progression. This breakthrough could be lifesaving, since more treatment options tend to be available when cancer and other conditions are caught in their early stages.
Fire hydrants, grass, that cute poodle down the street – you’ve probably noticed that dogs love to sniff – for them, it is an overwhelming sensory experience. Dogs have 125 to 300 million scent glands, which makes the average dog’s sense of smell 1,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than mine or yours. Researchers believe that by using their incredibly sensitive noses, dogs might be able to help sniff out disease. It’s thought that certain illnesses may have distinct scents associated with them due to differing chemical compounds released in saliva and sweat, and giving a whole new meaning the term “body odor.”
Dogs may not be able to distinguish which disease is causing a strange scent, but they can alert your physician that something is wrong. In the case of diabetes and cancer, there is great promise for canines in the medical field.
- Diabetes - Insulin-dependent diabetics could have new help in their disease management with dogs that can sense hypoglycemia. These dogs may be able to alert patients of their blood sugar changes before complications arise and require a trip to the ER.
- Cancer - It has long been suspected that dogs could literally sniff out cancer, and recent research has confirmed that they do so with staggering accuracy (up to 98%.) Naturally, traditional diagnostic tools would be used to confirm initial canine instincts, but dogs may be able to indicate the need for certain screening tests for conditions such as prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer so that tests are not performed without necessity.
Dogs in disease management
Dogs are not new to medicine at all. They are reliable partners and helpers for patients with chronic illnesses, often improving clinical outcomes by offering loyal companionship. There have been many success stories of patients with mental and developmental illnesses who have had companion dogs that have helped boost self-esteem and provided a sense of purpose. These facts aren’t too surprising when you think about how much comfort your dog might bring you after a rough day.
Would you rely on a dog as part of your healthcare team? Share your thoughts in the comments below!