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SNIFFER DOGS USED TO DETECT DISEASEDogs are without doubt a complex species. Centuries of domestication and breeding has produced not just an array of visually diverse breeds, but also allowed for the fine tuning of proffered genetics. Many of the traits so highly sought after include stamina, size and more importantly, an incredible sense of smell. Humans have capitalized on many of these attributes in efforts to make life a little easier, and in some cases offer a resounding solution to one of mankind’s biggest problems. It may seem like an unlikely scenario that still sparks heated debate among medical professionals and patients alike. Dogs can, and are being trained to detect illness and specific disease worldwide as science unlocks more evidence that solidifies what we have known from the early days of canine and human companionship. Our four legged companions have the upper hand based on their well developed scent receptors, which number at approximately 200 million while we, even with our keen sense of smell, come in at about 5 million. Besides the number of receptors which immediately gives them an edge, dogs have smell receptors that are in fact 10,000 times more accurate than that of their human counterparts.
Coupled with the ability to inhale up to an astounding 300 times every minute, nature has provided an effective means of delivering microscopic scent particles to olfactory cells, enabling them to detect subtle changes in the air, specifically in the case of disease.
Various changes in hormones, together with volatile organic compounds, which are produced as a result of infection or diseased cells, can be detected by trained dogs some even able to identify specific markers, which modern detection methods have failed to do. Some of the most well known testament’s to the advantages of using sniffer dogs as tools in identifying disease, is the number of accounts and research in support of cancer detection by canines.
Not only can they identify a patient with cancer, they can also be trained to identify specific types of cancers that includes bladder cancer, skin cancer and breast cancer. Evidence to confirm and motivate the process of using sniffer dogs can be found in a vast number of projects spanning a fair number of years. One such project was initiated in 2006, and sought to train 5 different dogs enabling them to detect cancers based on breath samples. The results where astounding as the dogs once trained, could detect breast cancer with an 88% accuracy rate, while lung cancer reached 99% by the end of the trails. Adding to this was the fact that they could identify these cancers along all 4 stages of the disease progression.
Utilising sniffer dogs allows for a non invasive strategy that offers an accurate means of early detection. This translates directly to lives that can be saved. A number of other illnesses and disease can be marked by sniffer dogs and these include diabetes, Parkinson's disease and conditions like Epilepsy. A certain chemical known as isoprene is produced naturally by the human body, and during episodes of hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, this level rises significantly. Researches believe that dogs are able to determine the increased production in human breathe, thus signalling a possible drop in blood sugar levels. Taking on the role as a warning method that provides time sensitive information to patients suffering from a multitude of conditions has become common place among individuals who would otherwise live in fear of incident or possible death. Detecting subtle changes in the air, and more so chemical changes, has put these highly trained sniffer dogs into the focus of researchers as the world shudders in the decimation and wake of the Covid -19 pandemic. While scientist are still to determine the methodology of how exactly dogs are able to identify the Covid virus in urine samples, it has been proposed that since the main area of infection is the respiratory systems, it could possible be due to the fact that our renal system, in particular our kidneys and Nephrons contained therein, may pose an answer. There is something almost magical when we hypothesise the ability to use a non invasive and natural means in relation to identifying and diagnosing disease and illness. Trained dogs can act as not only emotional buffers but make excellent listeners, thereby extending the impact for many patients who succumb to a negative mindset by simply offering emotional support. The future does look bright for dogs as we once again are reminded of how nature has provided us with more answers than questions!