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Family Dogs Sometimes Spot Illness

Some canines sense diabetes, epilepsy and cancer

Not everyone needs fancy diagnostic equipment to tell them they're sick. Sometimes, the family dog can do what sophisticated medical equipment cannot -- and with a little training, Rex will fetch the paper, too.

Ananova describes how one border collie sniffed out a cancerous mole on its owner's leg. It constantly sniffed, licked and even tried to bite off the lesion. In India, researchers even claim dogs can be trained to smell cancers in people, according to a wire service story from The Times of India.

A previous HealthScout story explains that up to one-third of dogs living with diabetics have the ability to sense when their owners blood sugar levels fall dangerously low if they've taken too much insulin.

The Times of London adds that some dogs can be trained to detect impending seizures in epileptics, apparently by sensing minute physical changes that precede a seizure and warn their masters of an oncoming attack. In the second of three health briefs in the Electronic Telegraph Dr. James Le Fanu describes other cases in which family dogs were attuned to oncoming seizures or hypoglycemic attacks.

Scientists have plenty of theories to explain the documented cases, but they really can't say how Spot spots such early signs of illness. Many illnesses induce chemical or hormonal changes, which have profound effects on the body. Dogs may pick up electrical disturbances in the brain, alterations in smell, muscle tremors, or behavioral changes in their owners.

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