News & Opinion | March 12, 2019 12:20 pm

Your Dog Might Be Able to Sense When You’re Sick

Paging Doctor Ottis to the sickbed.

dog sick sense pet
Burying your pet at home could poison your other pets. (Getty Images)
Getty Images

Dog owners who believe that man’s best friend is an exceedingly special, angelic fluff ball sent to us from heaven to love and appreciate us, rejoice!

Researchers who study canine cognition agree that it’s usually not just pet owners’ imaginations when they notice that their pups are more affectionate and attentive when they’re feeling under the weather. As one reporter from The Atlantic noted after she was recently ill, dogs not only know, but they use a series of signals to tell us humans, “Hey, I got you.”

Domesticated dogs have also shown an aptitude for detecting both mood fluctuations and far more serious physical conditions as well. A sick-sense, if you will.

“Dogs are preternaturally sensitive to changes in their people,” Alexandra Horowitz, the head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, said. “If a person is infected with a virus or bacteria, they will smell different.”

Dogs can even pick up on these scents before a person even begins to feel sick, according to Horowitz, thanks to their incredibly powerful sense of smell — they can have as many as 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, as opposed to a measly 6 million for the average person.

Dogs can smell how we’re feeling emotionally, too. Human emotions, The Atlantic reported, manifest physically in chemosignals that are emitted by the body, that dogs are adept at deciphering.

Researchers in 2014 also found that dogs can pull clues from our voices to determine how we’re doing, physically, too. Canines apparently have an area of their brains similar to one found in humans that helps them to pick out emotional cues in the tone of a person’s voice.

But while it’s apparent that dogs know a change has happened, we don’t know for sure what they make of it.

“We’re sending out lots of cues, of just the sort that dogs are specialized in attuning to,” Horowitz said. “Whether they think that it means ‘sickness’ is not clear.”