Can dogs sniff cancer in each other? Ground-breaking study launched

sniffing covid

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

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

Canine Urinary Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC) can be tricky to diagnose, as its symptoms and test results are similar to those of several other urinary tract disorders. The available options to diagnose it are risky, costly and invasive – which delays diagnosis and therefore treatment.

Cane, Pipì, Albero, Prato, Natura, Animale

Isabelle Desmas-Bazelle, Vet Oncologist at Davies Veterinary Specialists, 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.”

The proof of principle study, a collaboration with Davies Veterinary Specialists and part funded by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, will investigate this innovative test, which has the potential to make dramatic improvements to the diagnosis and outcome of TCC.

“If 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,” a Medical Detection Dogs statement reads.

Kizzy at work – image by Mark Large

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 Isabelle Desmas-Bazelle for treatment for cancer.

Claire and Isabelle began to question to question whether canines could detect cancer in other canines; Daisy was presented with some samples of urine from dogs with and without the disease, and easily picked out the positive samples.

Claire 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.”

Jobi at work

“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,” Claire continues. “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.”

Four dogs, a mixture of Labradors and spaniels, are currently being assessed. Urine samples from dogs with and without cancer have been collected by Davies Veterinary Specialists, and have been used to train dogs to detect the difference; this will be used to test how accurate they are.


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