Nurse's StationScrubs

How Pets Save Lives


Most animal lovers have read stories of pets that save lives by “detecting” a problem with its owner just before signs and symptoms begin to show.

There are companion dogs trained not only as guides for the blind, but also as part of the “early warning system” for seizure patients and brittle diabetics. These animals “sense” changes which occur just before an event such as a drop in blood sugar levels or a type of aura in a seizure patient. Often the animal will either alert someone to the impending problem or even put its own body between the patient and danger.

Can a dog “detect” cancer?

There are numerous studies to support this. It is believed that a dog uses its highly developed sense of smell to pick up changes in a persons’ breath or urine.

At least one such story is told by a woman whose dog kept pawing at one of her breasts. That particular spot was later diagnosed as a cancerous tumor. Others have similar stories about their pets and later being diagnosed with lung, bladder/prostate cancer, and melanoma.

Can a cat sense impending death?

Most have heard of the cat in a nursing home that “knows” when a patient is dying and stays in the room until the person passes away. Some say this is just an urban legend, but those who have a close relationship with an animal have seen their own pets respond to a change in condition.

Nurse Rene had a Dalmatian who seemed aware of her surgery, as he would sit beside the affected knee. Also present was a Maine coon cat who would lie beside the same joint. Both seemed to be protecting the surgical site in a way only they could understand.

What do you think?

Are these just tall tales or a fact of biology? We know that pheromones are secreted and sometimes have highly pungent smells as part of the fight or flight response. Gangrene, GI bleeding, dead tissue and certain bacteria have odors which aid in their detection. We also know that most animals have very highly developed senses–particularly hearing and smell–beyond those of humans.

Why then, wouldn’t it be possible for a pet or service dog to detect changes in its owner? The “sweetness” of diabetic ketoacidosis, the “aura” just before a seizure. The animal does not know anatomy and physiology or Biology 101. It only knows what its senses say.

Share your stories!


Nurse Rene
Nurse Rene has been an RN since 1978; CCRN since 1989 and attained a BSN in 2010. She has worked in virtually every specialty from Neonatology to Neurosurgery and is a Member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society with a particular interest in helping students and new grads develop to their full potential. She's been married for 33 years and has a keen interest in history and in current issues as nursing continues to develop as a Real Profession. When not spoiling the grandchildren, she enjoys sewing, cooking, kayaking, camping and travel. She likes all music which does not hurt her ears, watching NCIS, Leverage, Top Gear and Criminal Minds and reads books written by Clive Cussler, Miss Manners, Erma Bombeck and Tom Clancy. She enjoys collecting Quotations for use in her writings.

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