Dogs are amazing companion animals, but new research is showing that dogs may serve another vital purpose for humans: they can detect diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Claire Pesterfield, a children’s diabetes nurse in the UK, has seen firsthand how amazing dogs are at helping patients with diabetes. Claire has type 1 diabetes, and without her dog Magic, she would not be able to work. Claire’s body does not display warning signs that she’s about to have a diabetes-related seizure; that’s where Magic comes in. Magic is able to detect extremely small shifts in Claire’s blood sugar levels, and he then warns Claire that she’s about to have an episode.
Magic also watches Claire while she sleeps, and he pokes her with his paw if he detects a change in her blood sugar levels. Before Magic, Claire always had trouble sleeping as she worried that she would have an episode in her sleep. But thanks to Magic, Claire is able to sleep through the night.
“In the three and a half years we’ve been together, he has alerted and potentially saved my life 3,500 times. And he does it all for a dog biscuit,” Claire told the BBC. “I know without him, I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Since dogs have had so much success at helping patients with diabetes, the NHS is now conducting trials to see if they can also help patients with prostate cancer. Gunbreed dogs like Labradors and Springer Spaniels are being taught to detect prostate cancer in patients’ urine samples.
Researchers believe that the dogs can smell cancer “volatiles,” particles that travel from the cancer cells into patients’ urine. So far, the top-performing dogs have had more than a 90 percent success rate at detecting these volatilities.
“Although the dog has a fluffy coat and a waggy tail, he is in fact a highly sophisticated bio-sensor,” Dr. Claire Guest, co-founder of the charity Medical Detection Dogs, told the BBC. “Evolution has given him this highly sensitive nose, going down to parts per trillion.”
The NHS’ dog cancer detection trials are not currently receiving any government funding, but the UK’s Health Secretary has said he will consider funding the charity’s work after the results of the NHS Trial are published.
Pups like Magic and the dogs in the cancer-detection trial show just how valuable dogs are to humans. These amazing dogs are going to save many people’s lives!
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