Is Man’s Best Friend The Key To Recovery?



I listened intently as the lovely young woman with thick curly brown hair sat before me explaining how her treasured Golden Retriever dog, Brandy, had for the last two months continually nudged at her left chest area.  When you work in family practice medicine as a physician assistant for Kaiser Permanente, you hear a lot of strange things.  She was genuinely distraught so though I was bemused I decided to do an exam to reassure her.  When I discovered the contours of what I believed to be a tumor in her left chest area, precisely the area that had so concerned her dog, my blood ran cold.  After receiving the results of a fine needle biopsy and ultrasound my worst fears were confirmed.  This healthy appearing young patient had a deadly, aggressive form of breast cancer.  So aggressive that had we discovered the mass even as little as six months later it may well have claimed her life.  She was convinced that Brandy had somehow known and alerted her to the devastating tumor causing her to seek help and in the end saving her life.

I was skeptical, so I began to search the internet for information related to stories or claims of unusual canine abilities and learned that for some time now, the scientific community has been conducting studies on the premise that dogs have the ability to sniff out cancer cells.  Surprisingly, there is a body of evidence that our canine friends can somehow perceive malignant cells that cause a myriad of cancers:  Breast, prostate, bladder, colon, and ovarian cancers well as skin cancers such as malignant melanoma.

Investigation of dogs’ medical potential began in England in the late 1980’s.  It was a stretch for the scientific community, but in an online article presented by, the repeated accounts by individuals like my patient simply couldn’t be ignored.

This intriguing research is now conducted in almost every developed country.  In 2001, the Pine Street Foundation, recorded impressive results in clinical trials showing that dogs successfully detected breast cancer 88 percent of the time without false positives.  Repeated studies support the findings to an astonishing degree.

One theory for this amazing finding is something researchers call “Dognosis.”  It is known that a dog’s sense of smell is a thousand times more sensitive than that of a human’s.  There are 220 million olfactory sensors in a dog’s nose compared to a human’s mere 5 million.  Due to this sensitivity, a dog trained to identify cancer cells can detect the most miniscule Volatile Organic Compound (VOC ) emitted by these cancer cells.

This same canine ability to sniff out tiny alterations in a human’s scent has now been attributed to saving people’s lives from many medical conditions; this service is provided by an inspirational army of angels known as Therapy/Response Dogs.  For example, at the onset of a heart attack, enzymes are released into the blood stream that foretell the event.  These enzyme changes are picked up by the dog who alerts their human.  Imagine how invaluably gratifying it would be to someone who has a heart condition to know that they can rely upon the sensitive nose of their trusted companion to protect them against an unsuspected attack.

Additionally, it is found that about one in 10 dogs can predict the onset of a seizure in an individual.  A seizure patient’s life is dictated by the unpredictability of a possible attack.  Many simple pleasures that we take for granted are fraught with terror for the seizure patient.  Walking alone on a mountain path, going shopping, and even just day to day activities have the potential to be fatal if a seizure were to strike.  The seizure patient can turn to one of the many organizations that train “Response Dogs” to have a dog that can not only successfully predict an impending seizure but is trained to protect the person during the seizure, turn them on their side to protect the airway, and alert emergency personnel and stand down during the rescue.  These conceded canine abilities are opening up whole new fields of canine use in the medical arena.

These amazing feats notwithstanding dogs play a great role in our health and wellbeing by providing us with fierce loyalty, unconditional devotion, and an unquestioning bond. Their capacity to calm, to serve us and their human-like instinct to protect us provides us with the best and healthiest defense against sickness of all – love.