Lee Pitts: Going to the Dogs
December 31, 2014
Our health care system really has gone to the dogs. The latest on ObamaCare is that hospitals and insurance companies are looking to cut costs by using dogs to diagnose patients and detect diseases. I am not kidding! We already use dogs to sniff for bombs, drugs, missing persons and incoming suitcases for foreign bugs so why not use dogs to sniff out diseases too?
I'm all for handing off medicine to a bunch of mutts, after all, they can't be any worse than the surgeon who gave a patient two parallel scars because he had the x-ray upside down. And dogs will no doubt be cheaper, are far more personable and have better bedside manner than most doctors I've known.
Ever since 1989 we have known that dogs have a nose for detecting diseases in the human body. In 2003 all five dogs in a study were able to detect cancer with a 98 percent accuracy rate, which is a lot better than my doctor ever did. The reason dogs are able to do this is because they have between 125 and 300 million scent glands in their nose compared to humans with a paltry five million. They can smell 10,000 times better than your average human. To put it another way, if you put one drop of blood into a body of water the size of 20 olympic swimming pools the dog could smell the blood in the water. And if young children were swimming in the pool the dogs can also detect that many of the kids should have used the restroom before diving in.
In double blind tests dogs have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can detect the smell of cancer in a human body, and in many cases the cancer was in Stage 0, even before the tumors had begun forming. It makes you wonder, what's next, CAT scans using real cats?
This is all possible because everything we do produces chemical changes in the body and these changes produce unique smells. Think chili beans, for instance. But I'm not referring to those smells, I'm talking about the smells produced by diseases.
Cancer definitely has its own unique smell and highly trained dogs, just by smelling a person's breath, have detected lung, breast, bladder and even one of the worst, ovarian cancer. Dogs have also been trained to let diabetics know when their blood sugar gets too low. I'm sure all diabetics would agree, having a dog bark at you is much better than continually jabbing a sharp needle into your finger tips. There is also some scientific thought that dogs can smell when a person is getting ready to have a heart attack! Who says dogs aren't man's (and woman's) best friend?
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Researchers say that they can train dogs to do all these wonderful things if there is something in it for the dog: a treat, in other words. Which means they are just like doctors, only in dog's case, we're talking about a Milk Bone instead of a Ferrari. If the dogs detect the presence of a disease they are taught to make some sort of signal such as sitting down, wagging their tail or barking. The problem is that we don't know when they are signaling us, or if they are just tired, happy, or like to bark. After all, we don't want someone going through radiation or prostate surgery just because a German Shorthair dog "pointed" at their tailpipe.
All this does raise a few questions. In the future will a nurse practitioner introduce you to Dr. Shih , or Dr. X Ray, and will the dog then sniff you from head to tail? Will Dr. Dog smell your breath and diagnose you with gum disease or vegetarianism instead of lung cancer? Would Dr. Dog's diagnosis be thrown off if you ate an entire onion or clove of garlic before blowing in the the dog's face? And if one dog suspects something does he then refer you to a pack of specialists at the Ham and Mayo Clinic?
The big problem is not enough dogs can be trained for every doctor's office in America. What will probably happen is you'll give a urine or breath sample and it will be sent off to a Lab. And I do mean Lab.