There is no doubt that dogs have an essential role in human society and certain working dogs are very well known for their essential contribution in the civil, military and support communities. However, there are hero dogs that are less well known, but who provide an equally inspiring and life-saving service. These are the medical detection dogs.
These dogs really did create their own story when scientists started noticing that there was lots of anecdotal reports from round the world that dogs had detected cancer in their owners and ultimately saved their lives. When scientists started investigating the potential of dogs in detecting disease, the medical detection dog family was born.
These medical detection dogs are able to detect the odour of human disease, which means they have an important role in cancer research, but also in the homes of people with life threatening diseases. The skills of these dogs are due to their incredible sense of smell which allows them to detect very tiny odour concentrations down to one part per trillion. In a lab setting these dogs can examine urine, blood and swab samples to detect subtle signs of disease and scientists are currently studying this amazing ability to see if it can be recreated in a machine to provide a quick, cheap and non-invasive way of diagnosing cancer.
The skills of dogs however are not confined to detecting cancer in lab samples. Alert dogs have now been trained to detect the subtle odour changes in a real human with a life threatening disease. These dogs are placed as permanent companions in the patients’ home and are able to detect, on an ongoing basis, when that person takes a turn for the worse.
The typical condition that these dogs are well know for is diabetes and they can alert the owner that their blood sugar is dropping before the person notices any signs. More recently these dogs have been trained to help detect changes in other diseases such as narcolepsy, Addison’s and even nut allergies.
As always these dogs approach their work selflessly, with enthusiasm and with a waggy tail. Medical detection dogs; we salute you!