The first thing I want to say is that there are many different types of cancer. There are skin cancers, brain tumors, lung tumors, bone cancers, blood cancers etc. Each type has its own symptoms and signs which vary from one person to another. However, all of these types have one common characteristic: They’re nasty! And it seems like your dog has cancer too…and he smells really bad!
Can Dogs Smell Cancer?
What Your Dog’s Nose Is Telling Them
Your dog has cancer and he smells awful!
You’ve probably heard of canine olfactory abilities before. Some breeds are better at detecting certain scents than others.
For example, some dogs (like the Labrador Retriever) can pick up on strong, earthy odors such as manure or rotten meat while others (such as the German Shepherd) are less good at smelling these things out.
So what makes your dog so bad at smelling cancer?
First of all, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a dog nose. A dog’s nasal passages are lined with tiny hairs called cilia. These hairs are arranged in rows just like human hair, but they’re much shorter and flatter than our hair. Cilia move back and forth over the surface of the mucous membranes lining their nostrils to keep them clean and fresh.
Dogs also have an organ called the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ located in the soft tissue at the top of their mouths. This organ is for pheromone detection and helps them pick up on sexual attraction and other signaling chemicals that help with hunting and other aggressive or defensive behaviors.
This organ is connected to the sensory cells in a dog’s nose, which allows it to detect certain kinds of smells even if they can’t be detected otherwise. When a dog wrinkles its nose, it’s actually focusing the flow of air through its nostrils in order to better detect these pheromones.
For this reason, smaller dogs are likely to have an advantage when it comes to smelling out certain types of scent, including cancer or other health related smells. Male dogs may have a slight advantage over female dogs due to their larger sniffing capability.
Dogs have far more sensory receptors than humans do. That means that they’re able to detect a wider range of smells.
This is also why dogs have much worse smelling breath than we do. Humans were simply not designed to eat rotten food or breathe in car fumes all day without suffering the ill effects on our own senses of smell.
Dogs, however, don’t have this problem. Their heightened ability to detect smells makes it difficult for them to not smell things that we wish they wouldn’t, like garbage, car fumes, or even the scent of our decaying bodies after a few days pass.
However, this same capability makes it possible for them to smell certain medical conditions like cancerous cells in the body before they become life-threatening. Although some doctors are skeptical about whether or not dogs can truly detect cancer in this way, many people have seen their pets alert them to suspicious lumps or other symptoms of cancer and urge you to seek medical attention.
Dogs can smell the decay in cancerous cells.
Dogs have an uncanny knack for being able to sniff out certain scents, even among a wide array of other smells. This is why they’re often used in the search and rescue field, to find people lost in natural disasters or accidents.
Trainers report that they are able to teach their dogs to identify the scent of a person from objects that person has recently touched. They can then direct them to search an area, moving them left or right or even backtracking until they get a positive “alert” that the person has been found.
It’s not just humans that they can do this with. Dogs have an uncanny knack for being able to detect and identify scents of other animals too, whether they’re living, dead, or extinct.
However, they seem to be able to detect a wider range of smells in general than any other animal.
We still don’t know how they do it. Dogs have far more sensory receptor cells than humans do, including a great many more placed in far more locations than we have.
For example, while we can only smell the scent of something that’s close to our nose and fairly far away from our feet, dogs can smell things from a great distance away. This is because they have sensory receptor cells in their noses that detect scent molecules from a wide range of locations and can sometimes even tell which direction they’re coming from.
They also have sensory cells in their feet that detect minute changes in vibrations in the ground, further enhancing their ability to smell distant objects.
Dogs are far better smellers than we are in just about every way. They can smell things that we can’t, and can smell things that we can but at a much greater distance or with more clarity.
It’s thought by some that they can even detect the “scent-tones” of things, or at least certain types of things. For example, it’s been suggested that dogs can tell the difference between a chair that’s been left outside for a month and one that’s been left outside for a year.
Dogs are better smellers than us in almost every way.
Some people have theorized that they can even detect slight changes in the human pheromone levels that correspond to hormonal changes in humans. This would explain why dogs can sometimes suddenly turn on their owners or act aggressively towards them for no reason at all.
However, it’s not just a human’s smell that a dog can detect; it’s also the way that they’re feeling. Dogs are thought to be able to sense the minute changes in a person’s body language and demeanor that often correspond to changes in the chemicals in our brain that are related to feelings of stress, fear, and other types of emotions.
This means that a dog can instantly tell when a person is feeling scared, angry, or sad even when you’re trying your best to hide it.
The catch is that not all dogs have this ability. Some dogs seem to be naturally better at it than others, and it’s also thought that the age of a dog affects how good it is at judging human emotion through scent.
It’s been suggested that dogs past a certain age lose this ability almost entirely.
So, while your dog might not be able to smell out cancer or other illnesses, it can probably still sense something is wrong if you’re feeling sick. Maybe you should try taking it for a walk more often!
It’s good for both of you.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Being a dog: Following the dog into a world of smell (A Horowitz – 2016 – books.google.com)
- Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know (A Horowitz – 2010 – books.google.com)
- How dogs think: Understanding the canine mind (S Coren – 2005 – books.google.com)
- Canine olfaction and electronic nose detection of volatile organic compounds in the detection of cancer: a review (SW Brooks, DR Moore, EB Marzouk, FR Glenn… – Cancer …, 2015 – Taylor & Francis)
- Sniffer dogs as part of a bimodal bionic research approach to develop a lung cancer screening (E Boedeker, G Friedel, T Walles – Interactive cardiovascular and …, 2012 – academic.oup.com)
- Scientists seek to sniff out diseases (MJ Friedrich – JAMA, 2009 – jamanetwork.com)
- Canine scent detection of human cancers: A review of methods and accuracy (C Millan, MJ Peltier – 2006 – Harmony)