General Question

nebule's avatar

Can animals detect illness?

Asked by nebule (16159 points ) August 10th, 2011

I’m interested in your experiences of animals (any kind) detecting illnesses in humans if anyone has any. Furthermore if there is any scientific evidence out there that supports this suggestion.

If you believe that animals cannot detect illnesses can you tell me why?

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35 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

Dogs have been trained to detect lung and breast cancer by smelling the patient’s breath. They’re quite good at it.
(article)

SpatzieLover's avatar

One of our cats had detected my mom’s skin cancer. He tried on several occasions to lick and bite it off her face. It was one of the main factors she went to have a dermatologist look at it. Had the cat not done it, she probably wouldn’t have gone as it looked like a tiny skin tag.

thorninmud's avatar

There’s also the case of Oscar the cat who had an uncanny knack for knowing when nursing home patients were about to die.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I have heard the stories posted above about dogs being able to smell cancer, and the cat who seemed to know when a patient was about to pass. “Actively dying” is a medically measurable thing, so it isn’t some supernatural talent that cat had.
I don’t think that it ends there. It isn’t exactly an illness, but my cat always knows when I’m about to start my period. He becomes very aggressive about kneading my lower belly, and he tries to nuzzle his head into my belly right where my uterus is. Every month, without fail. He continues this for the first few days after I start, then he stops. They definitely sense things that we don’t.

smilingheart1's avatar

Yes! Illness, lameness, emotions and even impending death.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

There’s also the dogs they use to help people with epilepsy. They can tell when a siezure is going to happen.

JilltheTooth's avatar

I’ve always had dogs that could tell I was getting sick even before I knew, even for things as simple as a cold. I guess I just smell funny.

plethora's avatar

Yes. I have a dog (a Fiest Terrier) that has been trained to detect the onset of seizures. Plus he can always tell when my S/O is coming down with any kind of illness. He detected her cancer days before it was diagnosed, but can also detect even a cold in her.

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Blueroses's avatar

I had a client who has epilepsy and her Golden Retriever can sense the onset of a siezure before she’s aware of it. He’ll push her until she sits and then he’ll bark for help.

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blueberry_kid's avatar

If they can be trained to, of course. They’ve been trained to track down bed bugs, drugs, weed, marijuanna, all that. They should.

Aster's avatar

But what do the pets do so you know they’re detecting illness? They don’t tell you about it so isn’t anyone interested in this aspect of it?

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Aster Animal behavior is communication, just as human behavior is communication.

marinelife's avatar

Dogs can detect cancers when they are extremely small using their sense of smell.

They can also sometimes tel when a person who has seizures is about to.

Aster's avatar

But what do they do when they detect an illness? I mean, how can we know they detect one if they can’t speak? I must be really slow today.

JilltheTooth's avatar

With my dogs, their behavior has changed. Zuppy stays very close to me and is quiet, always watching, which is not like him. When he does that I become hyper-aware of how I’m feeling, then sure enough, within 24 hours something manifests.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Lick, bite, follow, knead or paw, wimper, push, nuzzle…the list goes on @Aster. It also depends on if they are closely bonded to the person they’re detecting the illness with or not as to what behavior they will employ.

Sunny2's avatar

Yes. I was visiting a retirement center. It has a dog and 2 cats who react to people who are very sick or unhappy. One of the cats followed a woman who came in new and stayed with her for two weeks until the woman was comfortable with where she was. I also watched as a friend was dying. Her Papillon was curled on the pillow above her head. The dog got up and left just before my friend died. Dogs notice before someone has a seizure and are trained to help patients who have that problem. I’m sure there are many other examples.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Hatchling's avatar

When I was 8, my best friend spent the night at my house. She woke up in the middle of the night complaining that her stomach hurt, so we went downstairs to get her a drink. Immediately, my family dog, Fynn, began following her around. He kept wanting to jump up in her lap, but she kept pushing him down because her stomach was hurting. What we thought was just a tummy ache was now being described as “stabbing”, so we called her mom to come get her. But her mom didn’t realize how severe it was getting, so she took her sweet time (after all it’s the middle of the night and what’s a little tummy trouble?). So Fynn was getting more and more nervous and began pacing and doing laps around the living room, stopping and looking up at the chair that my friend was now writhing and screaming in with each pass. Her mom eventually showed up and by that time, she had thrown up several times and was in unmanageable pain, so she went to the hospital to discover that her appendix had almost burst and was the size of a grapefruit!

I don’t know whether he could detect the illness itself or her intense emotions, but he could definitely tell something was wrong. He never acted like that, before or after.

Your_Majesty's avatar

It could be as simple as vision, and experience. Most big game predators that hunt could learn which animals in a group that’s sick, injured, or old so they could enhance their chance of success, and they do this very often.

Brian1946's avatar

These answers are touching and inspirational to me. I’m tempted to fly out to RI just to meet Oscar the therapeutic pussycat.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Ha ha. My ex once saw a show about animals that could detect cancer and afterwards would come home every night from work and watch our dog carefully sniff his dirty socks. It’s not like our dog was going to tell him anything but it was funny to watch.

Seriously, I’m sure some animals can detect when something’s not right because their sense of smell is so keen.

Seaofclouds's avatar

There are also dogs that can detect blood sugar changes in diabetics. These dogs are trained to bring the person their diabetic testing supplies so that they can check their sugar and treat it as needed.

woodcutter's avatar

A short while ago I saw my dog sympathizing with me when I was having a painful flareup in my back. She had “serious face.” and sat down next to me. It was easy to tell she knew something was wrong. I think animals can see problems in people…except cats, they just want you to shake it off and do stuff for them.

Hibernate's avatar

Yes they can. While a person tries to hide it from the rest of the family or even without them knowing they are sick a pet knows. He senses it in how we interacts, how me move.

I don’t know if there are scientific explanations but I witnessed it several times so I believe it.

Mariah's avatar

This is very unscientific, but I think they might be able to based on my experiences with my cat. She gets extra cuddly when I’m sick and curls up around my belly area (which was the sick part of me).

nebule's avatar

Wow… thank you all for your responses!! I didn’t think there would be so many with experiences like this! I asked the question because my sister’s kitten who I am looking after at the moment keeps on coming up to my face and licking my jaw near my ear…I have TMJ disorder and lots of inflammation in the joint. She doesn’t do this anywhere else on my body (it’s a bit gross actually to be honest..I have issues with pets licking!) and I wondered whether there was any mileage in the thought that animals can detect illness… very interesting indeed. Once again thanks to all for responding xx and just a little bit chuffed that it was chosen as question for the day :-)

snowberry's avatar

We had a dog that would totally nurse us when we were sick. One of my kids was very sick, and a family friend who was a doctor made a house call to see her. Our dog wouldn’t let him in the room because she was protecting her mistress.

majorrich's avatar

When my Father was in final stage Parkinsons, my cat Rascal stayed with him full time except to eat and potty. He isn’t a cuddly kind cat, but stayed really close and tried to comfort him as he was dying.

plethora's avatar

My dog has been trained to detect seizures (thankfully, I dont have them, but a previous owner did). But he is extremely sensitive to both physical and emotional changes in me.

nebule's avatar

Thanks guys x

MusicMom123's avatar

Wow, this is really cool. I have a herniated ruptured disc causing a pinched nerve and right leg/foot numbness, tingling. Just had an mri a free days ago, and am seeing neuro sugeon tomorrow. I’ve had this extreme pain for about 3 weeks, and my sweet little long haired doxie lays wherever my pain is, trying to help me in every way possible. the pain has moved from my hip where she was laying, down to my right foot and ankle so, right now she lays there. she’s constantly licking my face and its the most incredible thing ever like she just knows that somethings up and I’m not well. :( I heart my doggie :) this is really something.

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