Canines can warn their owners about a variety of disasters such as oncoming gales, earthquakes, poisonous substances and dangerous weather patterns.  But beyond their natural survival instincts, these skilled animals also are able to alert their masters of health-related issues or complications they might have. Medical detection dogs devote their lives to observing and warning their owner to any danger, and are literal lifesavers to those at risk.  The primary breeds used for medical detection work are usually Labrador Retriever , Poodles, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and even mixed dog breeds.

Medical Detection Dog Skills

Allergies: Allergen detecting service dogs help those with primarily anaphylactic allergies avoid ingesting anything that would be a trigger. Identifying elements such as peanuts, milk, soy, eggs, and other nuts in a variety of forms, whether cooked, raw, dried, or dehydrated. Individuals with life-threatening food allergies may be accompanied by their detection dogs wherever they go to determine if any food product, person, or dish contains the dangerous ingredient nearby.

Seizures: Dog noses are marvelously able to tell when their owner is about to have an epileptic seizure most likely due to body odors that are emitted before the occurrence. Alerting about seizures is often a natural instinct some canines have (and is difficult to teach). Some dogs will lick their hands repeatedly, or will try to nudge their owner to a chair or bed. Others park, paw, and even nip at their owner’s hands to get the point across.

Diabetes: The majority of the medical detection dogs work primarily with diabetics. The dog will smell the “sweetness” or fruity “acetone” scent on their owner’s breath whenever their blood sugar is imbalanced. By giving them similar warning signals (such as licking palms, nudging, pawing, parking, pulling, etc.)  the pet owner will be alerted to take whatever medication they need.  Having the help of a medical detection dog is vitally important, as patients can have seizures, become comatose or even die if they do not receive the attention they need.  “Brittle” diabetes patients are particularly benefited, as they cannot identify when they are at a blood sugar imbalance, because their bodies have stopped giving them the warning sign such as dizziness and blurry vision.  In these cases, medical detection dogs are crucial, as they can sense the heightened risk before it becomes a serious threat, and can be trained to either warn their owner or even bring them their medication kit.

*Note medical detection dogs can also be similarly trained to alert people who suffer from Addison’s disease (which can incur immense physical pain, strokes, seizures, narcolepsy, or convulsions) by giving them a similar kind of warning signal.

Cancer detection: Though this ability is still in its early training stages, scientists are working on teaching dogs to identify benign cancer tumors from human plasma samples and urine samples.  A recent clinical trial began just last month in the United Kingdom, at the Milton Keynes University Hospital to help train dogs to sniff out the sublet organic compounds evident in the urine or breath when cancer is present. These well-trained canines have even notified Dr. Claire Guest, one of the co-founders of Medical Detection Dogs by jumping up near her chest, and pawing repeatedly. This encouraged her to see if there was anything amiss, and it was discovered that she had the early stages on deep-seated breast cancer.  Guest’s beliefs that dogs could learn to accurately help diagnose cancer was solidified with her own personal experience, and she as well as others have continued to push the limits and see how dogs might be able to identify breast, prostate, ovarian and lung cancer. One of Dr. Guest’s most successful dogs has identified over 550 cases of cancer in her career, and many are hopeful that other animals could learn to do the same.

One of the many ways dogs have proven they have earned the title of “man’s best friend” is how they guard, warn and protect their owners in these life-preserving ways.