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The epithet “man’s best friend” takes on a whole new meaning with the popularity of medical detection dogs. With their 125-300 million scent glands (compared to 5 million in humans), these friendly animals can be vigorously trained to sniff out their owner’s medical conditions. Diseases often have scents because the body produces different compounds that dogs can detect in breath and sweat. Special breeds that have been raised and socialized to work in service can alert their owners to improve confidence, independence, and overall health.


Insulin-dependent diabetics often have hypoglycemic episodes which are very dangerous and often cause patients to constantly worry. Dogs sniff this out and warn their owners to check their blood glucose levels to eat and stabilize them. Training organizations such as Dogs4Diabetics clearly see this adorable animals as more than just pets.

Ovarian Cancer

Every year, 21,000 women in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the overall 5 year survival rate is only 46%. Unfortunately, because the cancer is relatively asymptomatic until it spreads to other tissues, most women are diagnosed too late. (The analogy is that in order to fight the cancer, the tumor should be the size of an aspirin pill but it is usually detected only after it reaches the size of an orange. If the cancer is caught in an earlier stage, the chance of survival after 5 years jumps to 93%.) Current diagnostic tests for ovarian cancer utilize light, sound, and touch, but medical detection dogs can smell the cancer. Hopefully, these dogs will be able to help older women catch the cancer earlier to increase their chances of survival.


These trained furry friends cost around $20,000 which is worthwhile for those with chronic conditions who can afford it. However, scientists have used these friendly pets as inspiration to create diagnostic tools that mimic a dog’s sense of smell. The Na-Nose analyzes over 1,000 different gases in human breath to detect lung cancer. Clinical trials have shown the Na-Nose to be 95% effective. Others are working on a device for ovarian cancer and other diseases.

Dogs may no longer simply be pets and best friends. With the proper training, anyone (who can afford it) can have a dog to love and keep them healthy.

Think About:

1. What policies will have to change in order to accommodate those with medical detection dogs?
2. Would these dogs be useful in developing nations?
3. What is the total cost of the dogs considering considering they need to be trained throughout their lives in order to detect most effectively?
4. What other animals should be studied or are being studied for medical diagnostic purposes?

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