Scientific studies on the healing power of dogs – Part 3

The stories of dogs rescuing their owners from all sorts of hazardous situations occur on an almost weekly basis. Many people also claim that their pet dog has saved them on a more emotional level. But what is the actual scientific viewpoint for such claims? Can dogs heal?

Firstly, there seems little doubt that dogs can sniff out cancer. Scientists at Amersham Hospital, Buckinghamshire conducted controlled experiments into this phenomenon using the urine sample of patients who have bladder cancer. The resulting experiments found that dogs could sniff out an infected sample, three times more than mere chance would dictate.

There are also studies done by the Pine Street Foundation proving that a dog is able to sniff out cancer on a person’s breath. Tests were carried out under rigorous circumstances, and incredibly the accuracy of detection was around 93%. The astonishing news is that the dogs were only trained for just a few weeks, and were still able to reach such dramatically high results. We all know the importance of spotting cancer early and such research projects promise another weapon in the fight against cancer – your dog.

But how is this possible? It is thought that cancer may omit certain minuet odours, and because of the dogs unique olfactory ability they are able to detect this. These odours are very complex compounds, not just single molecules, but your dog can still sniff them out. Further research is being conducted in this area, as clearly this needs to be harnessed as quickly as possible in order to help save lives.

Be what of the actual healing itself? Can dogs actually heal? Can an emotional connection actually have a real healing effect? Such a thing is very difficult to prove scientifically, and there are no current credible studies to back up such claims. What we have to turn to in the end is not science, but faith. Faith in our own experiences or the experiences of others. There is a common saying stating that “laughter is the best medicine”, but surely the unconditional affection of the family dog comes pretty close too.


British Medical Journal, “Olfactory detection of human bladder cancer by dogs: proof of principle study”, 25/09/2004. /full/329/7468/712?maxtoshow=& HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=& fulltext=dogs&searchid=1&FIRST INDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT, Assessed on 20/08/07. _animal_assisted_therapy.html, Assessed on 21/08/07.

“Study Reveals Dogs Can Smell Cancer in Patients’ Breath”, 17/01/2006, 4.html, Assessed on 21/08/07.

Vivian Edwards, British Medical Journal, “The healing touch”, /full/322/7301/1540 , Assessed on 20/08/07.

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