Sniffing Your Way to Better Hospital Experiences – Materials

12 - Communicating Through Scent

Communicating Through Scent

Each dog and cat emits a personal olfactory profile that imparts a wealth of information to other dogs and cats. The act of marking deposits information about age, sex, mood, health status, diet, size of pack and rank. A well socialized dog and cat will engage in mutual sniffing with another as a polite greeting.

A cat’s nose tells her about other cats in the surrounding area. We see this through outdoor cats marking their territory with urine or feces. This natural tendency can be a real nuisance for the owner of an indoor dog and cat. Urine and fecal odor buildup can be important factors in house soiling. A dog may continually soil an area in the house where other dogs have soiled before. A cat may find his own odors offensive when a litter box is not kept clean, and then choose another location to eliminate. In a multiple cat household, several litter boxes are usually needed to prevent smells from discouraging litter box use. Because cats’ noses are so sensitive, very strong odors can be distasteful. The scent of the litter itself can affect litter box usage. Most cats detest perfumed litter and prefer the plain types. This is one reason I recommend against using scented cat litter. The smell might be nice to you, but it could be overwhelming for your feline friend’s nose.

If dogs’ basic smelling skills amaze us, what they manage to achieve with those skills is truly astounding. In addition to providing a sophisticated detection device for sniffing out the minutest of odors, dog’s superior olfactory sensitivity can also be used in medical detection including early detection of melanomas, lung, breast, bladder, prostate and colorectal cancers. They are also able to predict seizures in epileptic patients, Clostridium difficile in stool samples and hospital patients and even detect low blood glucose in diabetic patients. A recent study in Diabetes Therapy revealed that diabetes alert dogs had an 87.5% accuracy rate in detecting hypoglycemia in people. Researchers showed dogs could detect hypoglycemia by sniffing sweat samples of people, without experiencing any behavioral clues. (Hardin, 2015) It is really kind of mind-boggling, that they’re able to detect such minute odor discriminations and act as medical detectors with sensitivities comparable and often superior to some of the most sophisticated medical diagnostic analyzers.

(Hardin, 2015) Hardin DS, Anderson W, Cattet J 2015. “Dogs Can Be Successfully Trained to Alert to Hypoglycemia Samples from Patients with Type 1 Diabetes.” Diabetes Therapy. 1-9.