The black Labrador retriever recently detected a drop in blood sugar in 7-year-old Luke Nuttall, who has Type 1 diabetes. His glucose monitor didn’t pick it up, but Jedi did—and woke up Luke’s mother, Dorrie Nuttall, as he was trained.The California family’s amazing story, which went viral on Facebook, made NatGeo’s own Nicole Werbeck wonder, “How do dogs use their noses to detect human disease?” Weird Animal Question of the Week sniffed out some answers.Dog schnozzes are incredibly sensitive and quite complicated, which makes them excellent at smelling bombs, drugs, and even animal poop, which can help with conservation.Teaching Dogs to Save Lives June 16, 2014—With their keen sense of smell, dogs are an ideal companion for military and law enforcement officials looking to sniff out explosives or drugs.And numerous studies have shown man’s best friend can detect various cancers, including prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma.
Exactly what they are smelling—in other words what cancer and diabetes smell like—is not yet known, says Cindy Otto, founder and director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center.But there’s evidence that diabetic alert dogs, or DADs, smell a volatile chemical compound released throughout the bodies of diabetics. Chemists have not yet singled out the exact compound.Since these helper dogs work with people, they get service-dog training on top of their medical-detection training—kind of like special agents.A diabetes-alert dog, or DAD, in London. The canines go through vigorous training school.During training, diabetic alert dogs are rewarded whenever they sniff the scent of low blood sugar, provided by patient saliva samples. That way they’ll focus on that scent to the exclusion of the many other scents they’ll pick up on the job.Other Penn Vet dogs, who are trained to detect ovarian cancer, work only with blood samples in a lab environment.
By Liz Langley