Using animals to detect an illness may sound like something out of a quack doctor’s book, but it is slowly gaining the backing of scientists. Animals can be very therapeutic for those suffering from cancer or other terminal illness. A trial found that specially trained dogs can sniff out prostate cancer in 93 percent of cases. The Milton Keynes University Hospital has given approval for dogs to be used in an NHS trial.
Currently, the way to detect prostate cancer is to undergo a test to determine the levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in men. From there, it will be determined if they need to undergo more specific testing.
Scroll Down for Video
PSA results can be unreliable and sometimes give false positives. The tests show that dogs can smell tumors with better accuracy.
One Italian study used two Alsatians trained to sniff out cancer. They got 900 urine samples from men—360 with prostate cancer and 540 without. The Alsatians were able to detect which ones had cancer in 97 percent of the cases.
It’s not only cancer that they can detect. Other illnesses from diabetic sugar lows to epileptic seizures can be sensed by animals. Dogs have 300 smell receptors, while humans only have five million. It is easier for animals to detect these.
Here are four people who have been saved by their pets:
Monty Sniffed Out a Tumor in the Neck
Martin Kelly, 71, was diagnosed with throat cancer after his dog Monty kept licking his neck.
Martin and his wife, Linda, adopted Monty in March 2013. In the evenings, when watching TV, the dog had a habit of hopping up and licking Martin’s neck. It was always the same spot on the right side. Then he noticed a small raised swelling where Monty licked him.
At first, he thought it was due to something the dog had passed. However, since he wasn’t sick, he didn’t give it a second thought. It was tiny, about the size of a thumbnail. In May 2013, he went to the doctor for another medical matter, and while he was there, he asked that the doctor take a look at his neck.
The doctor told him to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist right away. He was sent for a biopsy, and the results showed he had cancer. It was still in the earliest stage so that gave him some encouragement. He had the tumor removed and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
That was a grueling time, but Monty motivated him to get out of the house because he had to go out for a walk every day. Right now, the doctors say he’s cancer free. He has regular scans to monitor the disease.
Myrtle Tells Her Something’s Wrong
Myrtle knew she had cancer before her owner, Helen Mason, did. Horses have a great sense of smell, although not as good as dogs but very close. Myrtle kept nuzzling her on the left side. At the time, she did not feel sick at all.
Her owner thought it was very strange that for a few weeks, the horse would nudge her so hard that it hurt. She went to a doctor in August 2011. Myrtle’s nudges encouraged her to go.
The doctor referred her to a hospital. She was sent for a mammogram and ultrasound, followed by needle aspiration.
During Helen’s treatment, Myrtle stayed in her friend’s yard, but the thought of being able to see her and ride her made Helen determined to stay strong.
She had six rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the 4-centimeter tumor. She then had a lumpectomy, followed by radiotherapy. The treatment seems to have worked. She has an annual mammogram and will take the drug tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence of the disease.
During her treatment, Helen made a promise to Myrtle that they would grow old together, and it helped her believe that she’d make it through.
Ernie and Banjo Save a Life
Kate Arnett had several autoimmune conditions that came about after being run over by a car in 1996. She uses a wheelchair outside the house and is predisposed to blood clots and strokes. In December 2011, she had to start using oxygen because her diaphragm was paralyzed.
She uses an oxygen mask at night and has to sleep in a specific position. Her dogs make her life easier. Ernie is a disability assistance dog who has been with her for 10 years. He is trained to help her get dressed and place things in and out of the washing machine. He also accompanies her outside the house.
Ernie was due to retire at ten, so two years ago, she got Banjo to take over Ernie’s duties.
The dogs sleep in her bedroom. One night in March 2013, she slipped off the bed, and her oxygen mask came off. She doesn’t know how long she was unconscious. Both dogs licked her face and neck until she came to. She woke up and was struggling to breathe. All she was able to do was mumble her husband’s name, and luckily, he woke up.
When her husband saw the dogs fussing over her, he raced over and put her oxygen mask back on. What’s amazing is that the dogs aren’t trained to react that way. If they didn’t lick her face, she could have died. She was saved by her pets. It could have been much worse if the dogs weren’t in the room with her.
Charley to the Rescue
Susan Marsh-Armstrong lives with her cat Charley and her husband, Kevin, in Northumberland. Since she was 12, she’s had type-1 diabetes and has insulin injections twice a day.
When her sugar drops too low, she becomes incoherent, starts to be sweaty and dizzy. One day, before Christmas 2011, she got so busy she forgot to test her blood sugar. That night Charley kept tapping her husband’s face to wake him up, which is something she’d never done before. He dried to shoo the cat away, but she persisted.
Then Kevin noticed that Susan wasn’t in bed. Charley ran to the bathroom back and forth until Kevin got the message. He found his wife on the floor. When he checked her blood sugar, she was in a diabetic coma. He gave her a glucagon injection and a cup of very sweet coffee. If Charley did not awaken Kevin, she would have remained on the floor longer and may have suffered brain damage.
The cat and her husband saved her life.