Many pet owners feel as though their pets are special and unique. While every pet is different and indeed has its own unique qualities, some animals do display truly extraordinary abilities. One dog whose talents are nothing short of miraculous is Frankie the German Shepherd, one of a handful of dogs who have been trained to sniff out cancer.
Frankie’s Amazing Story
A German Shepherd-mix named Frankie has an 88% success rate for sniffing out thyroid cancer in undiagnosed patients. This dog does not detect cancer by smelling the individual, but by smelling his or her urine sample. Nearly 2,000 Americans die from thyroid cancer each year and over 60,000 new cases are diagnosed on an annual basis. Thyroid cancer is a terrible and deadly disease, but if it is caught early, there are treatment options available.
It is unknown exactly how Frankie is able to detect cancer in urine samples, but it likely has something to do with the fact that dogs have ten times the number of scent receptors as humans. Cancer cells have a unique chemistry that makes them different from other cells. They release volatile compounds into the body, which may have something to do with the ability of dogs to smell cancer. During testing, Frankie correctly diagnosed 30 out of 34 cases of thyroid cancer. Two cases were false-positive and two other cases would have been missed entirely.
Canine Cancer Detection
The ability of dogs to detect cancer is not exactly new. Before Frankie came along, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) had already shown that dogs could be trained to smell the difference between clean urine samples and those from cancer patients. Training dogs to detect cancer may not only be an excellent tool for early detection, but it is a cost-effective alternative and non-invasive screening option to detect cancer.
A California-based non-profit organization called the InSitu Foundation is dedicated to training dogs to sniff out cancer in humans. This foundation has taken part in two federally funded studies to test the accuracy of dogs in detecting both early and late-stage breast, ovarian, and lung cancer. Dogs have been successfully trained to detect the bacteria E.coli in urine samples and training is currently in progress to teach dogs to be able to distinguish between malignant and benign tumors using plasma samples.
Other Disease-Sniffing Abilities in Dogs
While the ability of dogs to sniff out cancer has received the most media attention, dogs have in fact been shown to possess the ability to detect a variety of medical conditions. In Lincoln, California, a dachshund/Labrador-mix named Pepper saved the life of a young girl when she experienced dangerously low blood sugar. Jennifer Arnold, the founder of a service dog training organization in Georgia, reports that 9 out of 10 of her service dogs have developed the ability to predict seizures. These are just a few amazing examples of the ability of dogs to detect medical problems.
Animals are extraordinary – it is as simple as that. In addition to detecting disease, dogs have been known to rescue infants from dangerous situations – they have even been known to run headlong into a burning building to rescue someone. Medical research studies and training programs continue to explore the amazing abilities of animals and hope to find practical applications for these abilities to improve detection rates for dangerous diseases in future.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian