May 27, 2024
Do dogs have a sixth sense? Can dogs really smell, hear, and see changes in human bodies that are indicative of illness? Explore the science behind these questions and learn practical tips for helping your dog detect and respond to illness in this informative article.


If you’re a pet owner, you’ve probably noticed how your furry friend seems particularly attuned to your moods and emotions. But what about your physical health? Do dogs know when you are sick? Many owners report that their dogs seem to have a sixth sense about when they are feeling under the weather. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind this phenomenon, examine some examples from pop culture and real life, and discuss some practical ways to help your dog help you when you’re feeling ill.

The Science of Dog Smarts

Dogs have been bred for centuries to serve and protect their human companions, and as a result, they have evolved to be highly attuned to human emotions and behaviors. Researchers have found that dogs can recognize and respond to a wide range of human emotions, from happiness to sadness to fear and anxiety. They have also shown that dogs can detect changes in human behavior and body language, which allows them to pick up on cues that their owners might be feeling unwell.

One study conducted by Austrian researchers found that dogs could actually tell the difference between happy and sad human faces, as well as between different facial expressions of pain. Another study from Japan showed that dogs could accurately interpret and respond to human pointing gestures, which is a skill that not many animals possess.

From Lassie to Spot

Dogs’ heightened ability to detect human illness has been well documented in popular culture. Classic examples include Lassie, the beloved collie who would often go to great lengths (and brave numerous dangers) to help her human friends in need. More recently, movies like Homeward Bound have shown dogs acting as protectors and healers for their owners.

There are also many real-life stories of dogs sensing when their owners are sick and responding accordingly. For example, one dog in the UK reportedly alerted her owner when she developed breast cancer by persistently sniffing and pawing at the area where the tumor was later discovered. Other stories involve dogs detecting seizures or drops in blood sugar levels in diabetic owners.

The Healing Power of Pups

While the exact mechanisms behind dogs’ ability to detect illness are not fully understood, there is growing evidence to suggest that dogs can indeed smell, hear, and even see changes in human bodies that are indicative of illness. Some dogs are trained specifically to identify certain diseases, such as cancer, through their sense of smell.

But it’s not just trained dogs that have this ability. Many owners report that their pets seem to be able to detect when they are feeling unwell even before any visible symptoms appear. This early warning can be invaluable, allowing owners to seek medical attention sooner and potentially catch serious health problems before they become life-threatening.

Your Beloved Canine Companion

So what is it about the bond between dogs and their owners that allows for this seemingly miraculous connection? According to researchers, it’s all about trust and communication.

Dogs are highly social animals that rely on nonverbal cues and body language to communicate with members of their pack (including their owners). Over time, dogs and their owners develop a deep level of trust and understanding that allows them to pick up on each other’s subtle cues and signals.

Sniffing Out the Truth

While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that dogs can detect illness in humans, some experts caution that this ability is not foolproof. Dogs may make false positives (that is, alert their owners to illness when there is none present) and there has been relatively little scientific research on the topic.

That being said, many experts agree that dogs are able to detect subtle changes in human body temperature, behavior, and scent that are indicative of illness. Some dogs may be better at this than others, depending on their breed and individual temperament.

Fido’s Instinct

Despite some of the limitations of dogs’ abilities to detect illness, there is still a lot that pet owners can do to help their furry companions help them when they are feeling unwell. Here are some practical tips:

  • Pay attention to your dog’s behavior. If they seem agitated, restless, or overly focused on a certain area of your body, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
  • Don’t ignore your dog’s warnings. If they persistently sniff or paw at a specific part of your body, or seem unwilling to leave your side, don’t dismiss their actions as mere attention-seeking behavior.
  • Consider training your dog to detect specific illnesses. Some dogs can be taught to identify certain diseases, such as cancer or epilepsy, through their sense of smell. Consult with a professional dog trainer to determine if this is a good fit for you and your dog.
  • Take care of your dog’s health. Dogs that are well-cared for and in good physical and mental health are better equipped to detect changes in their owners’ health and respond accordingly.


There’s no denying that dogs have an incredible ability to sense when their owners are feeling unwell. While the scientific explanation for this ability is still somewhat mysterious, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that dogs’ keen noses and sensitive natures allow them to pick up on subtle changes in human health. As pet owners, we can do our part to nurture the special bond between ourselves and our furry friends by being aware of their needs and abilities. Who knows? Your dog might just save your life one day.

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