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Dogs and disease

The prospect of dogs helping to detect human disease is becoming a reality

March 24, 2023

When human-beings ventured into the wild thousands of years ago, an unlikely, yet welcome friend, joined the tribe of human society: wolves. According to Psychology Today, “Dogs were domesticated between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, suggesting the earliest dogs most likely arose when humans were still hunting and gathering”. As integral to society as the telephone, dogs are a source of love and companionship which few other species provide. 

Having a pet typically means devoting weeks of time and thousands of dollars in order to bring satisfaction to both sides; having a dog means poop on the carpet, yet an excited face when coming home. However, there are more to dogs than just companionship and running around in the dirt; dogs are renowned for their smelling capabilities. As reported in 2022, “Humans have long taken advantage of dogs’ superior sense of smell. The 300 million scent receptors in a dog’s nose are routinely used to detect bombs. Sight is the most powerful sense humans have, the human eyes being able to make out thousands of shades of color and see miles into the distance. However, because humans do not have the same capabilities of dogs, society has begun to consider the use of the canines’ senses to protect human health. According to Wired, “…dogs can sniff out bombs and drugs, pursue suspects, and find dead bodies… they’re being used experimentally to detect human disease—cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, and now, malaria—from smell alone.”. 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, tests could take weeks to get back; in that time period, they could have infected dozens, if not hundreds, of people. As experiments with dogs and their powerful noses are being conducted, results are coming back instantly. Many diseases have a distinct smell, or rather, they cause certain bodily functions which can release odor. Cancer itself has a smell, and dogs can, unsurprisingly, make it out with training. A news article by MIT reports that “Numerous studies have shown that trained dogs can detect many kinds of disease — including lung, breast, ovarian, bladder, and prostate cancers, and possibly Covid-19 — simply through smell.” The implications of a creature, not even a machine, being able to detect disease almost instantly are beyond comprehension. It is a facet of human behavior, and most likely a fallacy, that human creations are trusted beyond that of nature and the natural world. Businesses, and more specifically, medicine companies are built off of human creation and creativity; however, using nature is sometimes far more beneficial than something human-made.

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Ryan Dunwell, Staff Writer

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