Dogs Flash New Talent Detects Cancer and Food Contaminants


Dogs have been reported to detect cancer in humans, but a new flash talent has emerged showing dogs to be well suited for detecting certain food contaminants. The latest report on dogs’ ability to sniff-out cancer states that the canines have a 97 percent success rate of detecting prostate cancer in humans. As the public appreciation for sensitive noses grows, dogs prove yet again to be beneficial for human health: they can identify food and produce that has been contaminated with fecal matter.

The research conducted on trained dogs’ ability to detect cancer has been growing since the late 1980s, and in particular, this talent has received considerable interest from the public and scientific community over the past decade. A 2006 study showed that dogs were able to detect lung and breast tumors, and more recent findings add ovarian and prostate cancers to the list. What is fascinating is not simply that dogs can identify cancer in humans, but their success rate at doing so has been remarkable. According to a Pennsylvania State University study, one dog has identified ovarian cancer with a 90 percent rate of accuracy. Ovarian cancer currently has no early-detection screenings.

The extreme sensitivity of canine noses is no news-flash, so it should come as no surprise that researchers are continuing to discover new ways that dog noses can help save human lives. In a recent publication published earlier this year by the Journal of Food Protection, researchers sought out different methodologies for detecting foodborne outbreaks. Between 1998 and 2008, the Centers for Food Control and Prevention reported that “produce of all kinds” were involved 42 percent of illnesses, as well as 23 percent of deaths in foodborne outbreaks. The contaminating culprit: fecal matter.

Fecal contamination in food can occur in a flash, and there are many opportunities for it to spread rapidly. Livestock can sometimes harbor harmful bacterial pathogens in their intestines, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes. These pathogens can be transmitted to humans that consume undercooked meat, however there have also been increasing instances of fecal matter found on raw produce. Composted manure makes for excellent fertilizer, but can also increase the likelihood of fecal contamination if the manure has not been properly composted. Fecal matter can also spread to crops through contaminated irrigation water.

The study published by the Journal of Food Protection found that dogs displayed over 75 percent sensitivity to cilantro, romaine lettuce, spinach, and roma tomatoes contaminated with as little as .25 grams of feces. The researchers claim these findings are significant because they give hope for minimizing the effects of future foodborne outbreaks. Dogs can reduce the time it takes to isolate contaminated foods, thereby expediting brand recalls. Normally, outbreaks have the opportunity to become exacerbated because the process of mircobiological testing is extremely time-intensive.

The research available suggests that dogs can be vital to human health, not just in the early detection of cancer, but by also helping to reduce the impact of foodborne outbreaks. This flashy new talent has the capacity to save the lives of many, especially populations that succumb to frequent food contamination.

By  Courtney Anderson

Public Health Canada
News 21