Notes From a Sick Bed

dog as doctor

Last week in The Weekly Bone, I talked about needing inspiration during the cold winter months and how I found it in the Westminster Kennel Club Agility Championship dogs. Their speed and grace and go
get’em attitude made me want to hop out of bed each morning with a spring in my step and face each day with a new enthusiasm and excitement. Then the flu hit. And now I’m back in bed writing this article on my laptop with my two dogs jammed around me, never leaving my side.

Their seeming deep concern provides a different kind of inspiration and makes me wonder if dogs really can tell that something is physically wrong in humans. Anyone who owns a dog knows that they are extremely sensitive to human emotional states such as sadness, fear, anger and happiness. But can they really tell if you are sick and then respond with empathy? We’ve all heard stories that they can detect cancer. Is that really true?  Being that I have some time on my hands, I thought I’d do some research between my shivering and sweating episodes and find out if they really know when we’re sick.

dog visiting sick bed

It turns out that they definitely do. According to Katelyn Schutz, CPDT, at Wisconsin Pet Care, dogs can have more than 40-50 times as many scent receptors as humans which makes their sense of smell almost 100,000 times stronger than ours. This amazing olfactory ability allows them to detect subtle changes that occur in our body chemistry when we get sick. It also means that they can be trained to smell VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in our bodies to identify different types of cancers with up to a 90% accuracy rate. A trained dog’s nose can smell lung cancer on someone’s breath, bladder cancer in their urine, and even locate breast cancer. It can also detect blood sugar changes and identify when someone is about to have an epileptic seizure.

Okay. But are my dogs really empathetic? Are my dogs turning me into a human sandwich because they feel sympathy? Or do they want to make sure I survive to feed them their next meal? Well, it’s probably a bit of both. In addition to detecting disease in our bodies, dogs can also smell hormones that make us feel good, such as dopamine and serotonin. When they get physically close to us, they can tell that it makes us feel better—and they feel better, too. That’s because we play such an important role in their own well-being that our happiness makes them happy. Makes sense. And, when you think about it, isn’t that how it works even in human relationships?

So, based on my research, I’ve decided that my dogs love, idolize, and worship me and am putting my laptop down to dwell in my own marvelousness (as well as to minimize the waves of nausea and fever-induced hallucinations I’m currently experiencing). Thanks to my dogs Rusty and Hobbes, I’m feeling better already.


Next week: I get out of bed. Really.


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