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Pilot Study Shows Dogs Can Smell Trauma In Human Breath

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A recent study found evidence that dogs might be able to “sniff out” the onset of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) episode through people’s breath.

The researchers found that there are some dogs that could identify stress-related chemicals in the breath of people experiencing PTSD symptoms.

Thanks to their amazing sense of smell, dogs can already detect other human diseases like cancer, diabetes, and tuberculosis among other things.

 Laura Kiiroja, the study’s first author from the Dalhousie University in Canada, told Medscape Medical News, “Ours is the first study to demonstrate that at least some dogs can detect putative stress-related volatile organic compounds in human breath that are associated with PTSD symptoms.” 

The new study included 26 mostly civilian “breath donors” who had experienced various types of traumas, with 50% of them meeting the criteria for PTSD.

Furthermore, the study also involved two female companion dogs who were specifically trained to target odors from the donors’ samples.

The dogs were named Ivy, a red Golden Retriever, and Callie, a German shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix.

Golden Retriever Dog Putting Head On Owner'S Lap. Owner'S Hand Stroking Pet Puppy
Robert Way / Shutterstock.com

The donors where asked to donate their breath by attending sessions where they were reminded of their traumatic experiences while wearing two different masks — one worn while the participant is calm, and another one when the participant is recalling their trauma.

Meanwhile, the dogs’ ability to discern and differentiate between the two samples were also tested.

The researchers found that both dogs had a 90% accuracy across all sample sets where they had to differentiate between a “calm” mask and a “stressed” mask.

Kiroja revealed that both dogs took their job very seriously and attributed their “limitless appetite for delicious treats” as a motivational asset.

“In fact, it was much harder to convince them to take a break than to commence work. Callie in particular made sure there was no dilly-dallying,” Kiroja reveals.

The researchers pointed out that while there are some studies and evidence that dogs may be capable of sensing bodily chemicals linked to a human’s stress, no study has investigated if dogs can detect such chemicals linked to PTSD.

The researchers concluded that the study provides evidence that dogs can be trained to detect upcoming distress episodes.

However, they are aware that there is a long way to go and validation studies are further required to confirm their study’s promising results.

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    Dogs have also displayed promise in detecting changes in blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for individuals with diabetes. Trained dogs can recognize the distinct scent associated with fluctuating glucose levels, allowing them to alert their owners when levels are too high or too low.

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