dogs and health

How Dogs Can Play a Role in Healthcare

A dog’s sense of smell can be 10,000+ times more powerful than humans. It’s no surprise that we ingenious humans have figured out how to train these loving creatures with their amazing sniffing abilities.

We’ve all seen dogs at the airport and/or in cop cars. These dogs are particularly trained to sniff out illegal drugs. However, dogs can also be an effective solution in some healthcare situations.

Disclaimer: All dogs featured in this post belong to (or previously belonged) a BBG team member. The theme photo may just happen to be the president’s dog…or should I say the dog who owns the president may just happen to be featured in the theme. 😉

Life is good!

Wait, you want me to work??

Living large

Detecting Seizures

Did you know there are seizure alert dogs? That’s right if you have a loved one who is challenged with epilepsy, there are organizations who can pair them with a trained seizure alert dog.

Here are several such organizations that we’ve come across in our research on the internet:

Ready to please!

According to Canine Partners for Life these dogs can do the following:

  • Alert its partner of an oncoming seizure
  • Stay close to its partner in the event of a seizure to prevent injury
  • Alert a caretaker
  • Fetch an alert device
  • Open a door and/or turn on a light

The Epilepsy Foundation states that “dogs can be trained as service animals for people with seizures, just like they can be trained to serve people with other disabilities. The law protects a person’s right to use a service animal in any public place.”

It’s quite amazing that these fuzzy, friendly creatures can not only be our best friend but also provide a valuable service.

Diabetic Alert

Everyone needs a best friend.

Diabetes is another health condition for which dogs can be trained to detect. The key with many medical conditions is early detection. Blood sugar levels which go too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (hyperglycemia) pose serious health risks.

Diabetic alert dogs are trained to alert their partner in advance of levels becoming dangerous.

According to the American Kennel Club, “diabetic alert dogs can function as blood sugar level detectors.” While dogs cannot give exact measurements of blood sugar levels, like a blood glucose meter, they can preemptively alert their partners when levels are out of range.

If you are looking for organizations to pair you or your loved one with a diabetic alert dog, here are several organizations and resources:

Early Cancer Detection

Did you know I have 220 million smell receptors?

So if a dog’s sniffing ability is so phenomenal at early detection of certain health conditions, what about cancer? If so, wouldn’t it seem like a grand solution to have dogs in our primary care physicians waiting room? Well, we are probably a long way from that ever happening but there are dogs being trained.

However, no one can deny that some dogs are already being credited with life-saving abilities. This article from American Veterinarian has some great stories of normal dogs alerting their owners in creative ways about cancer. Many of the owners have good reason to believe their dogs saved their lives!

According to Medical News Today, dogs can detect certain cancers in a person’s:

  • Skin
  • Breath
  • Urine
  • Feces
  • Sweat

This seems like a no brainer, right? It’s a low-risk, noninvasive method; however, there are still many inconsistencies.

The Challenges

Who me? I’d never present a challenge.

The first double-blinded studies were published in 2006. Dr. Klaus Hackner, a pulmonary physician at Krems University Hospital in Austria reports in this article on Scientific American.

First, let’s look at why/how dogs can detect cancers. Cells give off volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. According to Hackner, each type of cancer would have a distinct smell and it would be different from a normal cell.

“Given that dogs have more than 220 million smell receptors in their noses, they’re excellent animals for sniffing out disease,” Hackner said. “In comparison, humans have a ‘mere’ 5 million smell receptors in their noses,” he said.

Most dogs can be trained, in about 6 months, to detect the odors associated with certain cancers. However, the study failed due to the lab environment being set up in a way that neither dog nor handler knew if samples selected by the dogs were actually cancerous. Dogs will lose interest without positive reinforcement.

In this same article from Scientific American, Dr. Hilary Brodie, a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of California, expounds on some arguments of why dog detection of cancer is not ideal even if the lab situation was different:

  • It would take an immense amount of time and energy to train dogs on the many types of cancer.
  • Dogs can have a bad day and misdiagnose.
  • No test is perfect but doctors know the accuracy of certain tests such as mammograms while rates would vary from dog to dog.

Both Hackner and Brodie believe it may be more feasible to think that dogs will be aiding researchers in the creation of biochemical “nose” machines, known as e-noses.

The nose knows.

Closing Thoughts

Dogs make wonderful companions and very apparently aid in improving our lives in various ways and especially with those who are challenged with health conditions. Dogs are already making a positive impact in the world of healthcare in regards to seizure and diabetic alert.

There is more research needed before dogs can be of assistance in the detection of certain cancers. However, the good news is that they possess a valuable key component (amazing sniffing abilities) and now it’s up to us to figure out how to best train and utilize them.

We are capable of more than just looking cute.

 

 

 

 

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