Can Dogs Sniff Cancer in Other Dogs?

A study into whether cancer detection dogs can sniff cancer in another dog’s urine sample is being carried out for the first time in the UK by the charity Medical Detection Dogs this month.

The project will investigate what would be a cheap, rapid and non-invasive diagnostic test for canine bladder cancer by training dogs to detect cancer from the odour of urine samples.

Four dogs, a mixture of Labradors and Spaniels, are taking part in the trial project with a view to two working full time on it if the project is successful.


Photo Credit: Twitter/Medical Detection Dogs

The proof of principle study will investigate this innovative test, which has the potential to make dramatic improvements to the diagnosis and outcome of canine bladder cancer.

Currently, experts say that Canine Urinary Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC) is hard to diagnose because it can look like several other urinary tract disorders when tested for, meaning diagnosis can be tricky. One current possible method of looking for TCC is cystocentesis – when a needle is inserted into the bladder to take a sample of urine – but is best avoided as it can risk spreading the tumour.

Definitive diagnosis requires taking tissue from the suspicious area so a medical scientist can look at it under a microscope which is invasive. This is not only costly but it delays the results and therefore a dog’s treatment.

So if this project proves successful, it could be an easier and non-invasive way to diagnose dogs with bladder cancer.

The idea for the project first came when Medical Detection Dogs CEO and Co-Founder, Claire Guest, took her own cancer detection dog, Daisy, to Vet Oncologist at Davies Veterinary Specialists, Isabelle Desmas-Bazelle, for treatment for cancer.


Claire and Daisy / Photo Credit: Darcie Judson

During the meeting, they started to question whether canines could detect cancer in other canines and Daisy was presented with some samples of urine from dogs with and without the disease. She picked out the positive samples quite easily.

Claire Guest says: “Dogs are renowned for their sense of smell and we know from many years of the dogs’ ability to detect human cancer, that it is a disease that has characteristic odours that they can pick out very successfully.

“It seems obvious that they could do the same for canine cancer and as the current screening tests are often inaccurate, not to mention very unpleasant for our beloved pets, we are very much looking forward to showing that dogs themselves could be the key to diagnosing this disease early in their four-legged counterparts.

Isabelle Desmas-Bazelle says: “Current methods of diagnosis can be slow and yield misleading outcomes – for example, a positive result can be because of other non-cancerous conditions such as infection. This means that vets may target infection when in fact the dog could have cancer.”

If this project is successful, it could also add to Medical Detection Dogs’ understanding of what the profile for cancer smells like and provide more information for their cancer detection dogs to learn from in the future.

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