Man’s best friends have long been put to work, and a recent medical study has shown hounds can be trained to smell malaria in children. Is there anything they can’t do?
Malaria is a disease with many identifiable symptoms, including sweating, vomiting and bloody stools. However, forget the traditional signs, because dogs can apparently smell it on you. The annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans has just revealed that a labrador and a labrador-retriever cross were recently trained to detect malaria in children by sniffing nylon socks in a jar.
This is not only an extraordinary medical breakthrough, but it reinforces the notion that all dogs are very good boys indeed. It means that we can tick off malaria from the list of things that dogs can identify with the 220m olfactory receptors in their noses. Here is that list.
Drugs: US law enforcement first used dogs to smell crack, cannabis and heroin in the early 1970s. They are still used now.
Cancer: in 2015, a study showed that trained dogs could detect prostate cancer in urine with a 93% success rate.
Alzheimer’s: in 2016, Yale Scientific reported that dogs may also be able to identify the urinary chemical fluctuations that accompany the early stages of this form of dementia.
Diabetes: a University of Cambridge study from 2016 determined that dogs could smell blood sugar fluctuations based on the isoprene found in human breath.
Mould: an Illinois company, Spot Mold, uses detection dogs to discover and confirm cases of indoor mould quicker and more cheaply than humans.
Poo: the University of Washington’s Conservation Canine program trains dogs to track the stools of various animals to help researchers identify their diet and genetic makeup.
Truffles: the lagotto romagnolo breed is famed for its ability to locate truffles. And, unlike pigs, they won’t eat a truffle when they find it.
Bedbugs: during the New York bedbug epidemic of 2010, it was claimed that dogs could locate outbreaks with a 97% success rate, compared to humans’ 30%.
Poorly bees: in 2014, Bazz, a black labrador from Australia, was trained to detect the widespread and destructive bee disease American foulbrood. It is thought he has saved thousands of the insects.
DVDs: in 2004, the Motion Picture Association of America’s anti-piracy director, John Malcolm, had the idea of training dogs to sniff out the polycarbonates used in DVD manufacturing; he used them to fight knock-off movie duplication.
Cow eggs: a 1978 study revealed that dogs could be used to smell the ovulation cycle of cows, leading to more effective artificial insemination techniques.
Ghosts?: “Can dogs detect ghosts, spirits, or hallucinations?” asked Psychology Today last year. The answer: probably not, but they still deserve a nice pat on the tummy.
Truffles, ghosts and now malaria: things dogs can sniff out