Your Dog Nose What's Up

There’s a lot to love about dogs. The tails that wag, the paws that “clack clack clack” across a tile floor as they run to greet you, the way they almost always come when you call them (not like some other pets—I’m looking at you bearded dragon).

But this post is about their loveable snouts. Those smelling machines that know you brought home fries went to McDonald’s before you even open the front door.

The olfactory prowess of dogs has been documented in the medical literature. It’s well settled that dogs, with some training, can:

Detect low blood sugar in diabetics

Smell malaria on patient’s socks

Discern some types of cancer

All with the power of their noses.

Now, researchers are looking into another dog talent: the ability to predict epileptic seizures. Right now the “evidence” is anecdotal, but dogs have been able to predict seizure up to 5 hours in advance.

The big scientific question is whether there some kind of odor associated with seizures. In the case of seizures, dogs could be reacting to other stimuli like movements patterns.

A recent experiment seems to demonstrate that there is some kind of detectable seizure smell. Researchers took scents from people who were having seizures, and scents from the same people when they were not having seizures. Five disease sniffing dogs were trained to recognize the seizure scent. Then they were put through trials where they had to identify the one bucket out of seven that had the seizure scent.

The results were impressive. All the dogs could identify the seizure scent, and three of them scored 100%! Their overall accuracy was even better when tasked with identifying negative samples.

This research is the first step in identifying the specific odor signature of a person having a seizure, and then making electronic devices programmed to recognize that odor.

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