Medical Minute: Animals Saving Lives: Doctor Dog

According to a recent survey, having a cat or dog makes people happier and teaches children responsibility. Now, researchers are studying ways our four-legged friends not only improve our lives but also could actually save them.

Meet rusty, Maggie and Ginger, medical detectives in training. Lawrence Myers and his team are teaching them to sniff out suspicious odors. One day, these dogs could be sniffing out odors from skin cancer.

"Just because something is low tech doesn't mean that it is not as good as, if not better, than a number of the high-tech methods," says Dr. Lawrence Myers.

A dog's low-tech sense of smell is actually up to one hundred thousand-times more sensitive than a human's. Dr. Myers envisions a future where dogs will work side by side with doctors.

Jim Walker agrees dogs could be a valuable tool. He's training dogs to detect prostate cancer.

"Any disease where there is any reason to think there are chemical cues coming from the body, it makes sense to investigate if the dog can help the diagnosis," says Dr. Jim Walker.

And dogs aren't the only ones with a nose for medicine. Susi, who is diabetic, says her cat Ichabod knows when her blood sugar is low.

"He'll keep nudging me until I get up to go check it and sure enough, it's low," says Susi Johnson.

Susi lives alone. If her blood sugar falls when she's asleep or if it drops too low, too fast, and she's already disoriented, Ichabod's watchful eyes could save her life.

"He would deliberately come over and whap at my face or actually nip at my leg until I got out of bed."

"They constantly surprise us with what they can come up with. The anticipation and the true love and devotion that they have to taking care of their person. It's really phenomenal," says Joanie Bussard, service dog trainer and cofounder.

For more information, contact:

Lawrence J. Meyers, DVM, Ph.D.
Auburn University
College of Veterinary Medicine
myerslj@vetmed.auburn.edu

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