Researchers Use Dogs’ Noses to Sniff Out Ovarian Cancer Pt. 1

Other than being man’s best friend, canines have been used for a variety of services ranging from guiding the blind to consoling sick patients in hospitals. However, dog noses are for more than just finding and chasing rabbits around the yard.

The New York Times reported that McBaine, a black and white springer spaniel from Philadelphia, is a new employee at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. His job is to stroll around a table-size wheel with 12 arms protruding from its edges, each holding different blood plasma samples. However, one of them contains a drop of cancerous tissue. After making his choice – box No. 11 – McBaine is given a tennis ball as a reward, which he chases during his victory lap.

The spaniel is one of four dogs at the center who are highly trained in cancer detection. The facility helps purebreds put their senses of smell to good use in search of early signs of ovarian cancer. As part of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, the Penn Vet collaborates with chemists and physicists to isolate cancerous cells that only dogs’ noses can detect. The goal isn’t to train dogs capable of super smell, but rather to eventually manufacture nanotechnology sensors that can detect cancer that’s 1/100,000th the thickness of paper.

RELATED STORY: Dogs Can Detect Prostate Cancer 4x Better Than Modern Tests

The Working Dog Center trains canines for police work, search and rescue, and bomb detection. Ovarian cancer detection was added to their doggy courses after receiving a grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation. Many of the participating pooches are hunting hounds with noses that have been improved through years of selective breeding, such as Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. The dogs start with basic obedience classes when they’re 8 weeks old and are raised in the homes of volunteer foster families.

The cancer detection training entails handlers holding two vials of fluid in front of each dog – one cancerous and one benign. Dogs smell both, but are only rewarded when they sniff the malignant sample. George Preti, Ph.D., a chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, is working to isolate chemical biomarkers that produce ovarian cancer’s subtle smell. This is how the handlers are able to train the canines to correctly sniff out the vial with the cancerous sample. Using the research, the next step will be to design a handheld sensor that can detect the specific chemicals that dogs are able to identify with their noses.

The experiments being conducted at the Working Dog Center highlight the uncanny sense of smell that dogs possess in comparison to humans. But do you know just how much stronger their noses are than ours?

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Researchers Use Dogs’ Noses to Sniff Out Ovarian Cancer Pt. 2

What makes dogs’ noses so keen?

According to PBS Online, canines’ sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more accurate than ours. To equate that discrepancy to vision – what humans see at a third of a mile, a dog could spy from more than 3,000 miles away with similar clarity. Pooches possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to the paltry 6 million in humans. In addition, the part of their brain that analyzes smells is a whopping 40 times larger than ours.

Dog Breed Info explained that canines predominantly interpret the world around them by smell. That’s why dogs who are blind or deaf can get along well enough if they’ve been trained properly to cope with their disability. Their wet noses also serve as an advantage because the mucus captures scent particles. They smell pheromones that can be found in urine, feces, skin and fur. When they sniff another dog or person, they can learn a lot about him simply from his odor.

The strength of their noses starts at birth, as puppies have heat sensors that help them find their mothers during the time when their eyes and ears are still closed. However, these sensors disappear once they reach adolescence.

According to Dogster, no matter how much you scrub your skin in the shower, dogs can still smell your “scent.” To canines, every human has a unique odor that acts as a fingerprint and is practically everything they need to tell one person from another. Our skin regularly produces oils and fluids from sweat and sebaceous glands that create a particular scent, leaving trails of smells everywhere we go.

With the right regimen of supplements and special dog foods, pet parents can ensure that their pooches are in top shape, from tail tip to nose. By joining PetPlus, owners gain access to discounted medications that help improve their dogs’ lives and bolster their senses of smell, vision and hearing. Sign up today and start saving money on supplements, even 25 percent off visits to the veterinary clinic.

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PetPlus is a benefit program for pet owners that provides member-only access to medications at wholesale prices, plus discounts on food, supplies, vet visits, boarding, and more. Learn more at


Dogs Can Detect Prostate Cancer 4x Better Than Modern Tests

Finally, we have found a way to capitalize on our dogs’ long-standing affinity for sniffing rear ends.

Recent studies are showing that trained dogs are nearly four times better than modern testing when it comes to detecting prostate cancer.

The Facts

Prostate-specific antigen (or PSA) tests, in which blood is tested for a protein produced by the prostate, have been the most reliable and least invasive way to determine whether or not a man has prostate cancer. However, even that test frequently produces a false positive. In fact, 75% of positive PSA tests turn out to be incorrect, meaning that 3 out of 4 people receiving the bad news had no reason to be put under such stress.

Our canine compatriots, on the other hand, can detect prostate cancer with roughly 90% accuracy. And while this may be initially surprising, should it be? Dogs have been used for their keen sense of smell for hundreds of years. From tracking game, to sniffing out drugs and explosives, dogs’ well-honed schnozzes have been exceptionally useful tools for numerous tasks. And pair that with their ability to learn and perform various jobs, it should come as no surprise that, with the proper training, dogs can detect nearly anything.

RELATED STORY: Your Dog Knows Your Smell, Even From Afar

How Do These Dogs Do it?

Dogs have the ability to pick up scents that are as diluted as one part per thousand, thanks to their 200-million-some-odd nasal olfactory receptors (compared to the paltry 6 million we humans are equipped with). It’s that keen sense of smell that makes dogs such natural trackers. In order to use that ability to detect cancer, dogs can be specially trained to sniff out certain chemicals produced by prostate tumors in urine.

In a recent study by Dr. Jean-Nicolas Cornu of Tenon Hospital, out of the 66 tests that were done, Medical Detection Dogs were spot on 63 times, with only 3 false positives in the batch. That is an almost unheard of success rate for a test of this nature.

Skeptics are bringing up some concerns with the initial test, saying the sample size is too small to be making claims, or that the dogs may have been picking up on subconscious cues from researchers. Still, this test does open up the a whole new way to think about testing for diseases.

What do you think about using dogs to help detect cancer? Leave a comment and let us know! Also, consider signing up for PetPlus, a benefit program for pet owners that provides member-only access to medications at wholesale prices, plus discounts on food, supplies, boarding and more.

Counsel Heal – Dogs are Four Times More Effective Than Prostate Cancer Tests
WebMD – Dogs Sniff Out Prostate Cancer
Daily Mail – Dogs are FOUR times better at detecting prostate cancer than traditional tests


Dog Scents: Your Dog Knows Your Smell, Even From Afar

Lets talk dog scents. Dogs love to sniff around. It is a major part of how they experience their surroundings; but did you know that your dog could probably pick your scent out of a lineup, even when you aren’t around?

In a recent study, piggybacking on recent developments in getting dogs to sit still for an MRI scan, 12 dogs were put through an MRI and presented with a sampling of different smells. Their brain patterns were recorded and analysed, helping to determine what type of scent produced the strongest response.

The Study

Each dog, once inside the machine, was made to smell five different scents: their own odor, an unknown dog, a dog they know, a person they don’t know, and a human member of their household. The study made sure to choose a member of the household that was not present during the study, since each dog required a handler throughout the study, and it would have skewed the results if the scent came from a person with whom they had recently interacted.

The results of the study were not far off base of what was hypothesized — each scent evoked a similar response, with familiar odors causing a stronger reaction. There were, however, a few details that surprised the researchers.

While nobody was surprised that the dogs had a stronger response to familiar scents, the fact that they only displayed a positive reaction to familiar people was a bit of a shock. One would have assumed that the scent of a familiar dog would be cause for joy as well, yet it seems that positive association is a response reserved for their people. Also, this positive association to familiar human scents drastically increased in those that were trained service dogs.

RELATED STORY: 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know

The conclusion

This study confirms the belief that dogs are capable of remembering smells that they are familiar with, both human and canine, and that they draw a stronger connection with the people they live with than other members of their own species.

For the researchers, this study provided some useful insight. “Dogs play many important roles in military operations. By understanding how dogs’ brains work, we hope to find better methods to select and train them for these roles,” said project leader Gregory Berns.

RELATED STORY: Salute to US War Dogs: An Infographic on Military Dogs

So, while this study gives us the warm fuzzies — confirming that our dogs love us and miss us —  for the researchers, this added insight into what triggers the strongest response in the doggy brain will help to pinpoint the best ways to train a service dog.

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What do you think? Why might our dogs respond strongly to our scent? Leave us a comment below!