Last week saw a rather unusual story in the headlines in which a jack Russell took it upon itself to remove an infected toe from his sleeping owner. Jerry Douthett, a 48-year-old musician from Rockford, USA, had been out drinking, and on returning home had fallen into a deeper than usual sleep. He awoke, some hours later, to find the sheets of his bed blood soaked, and on further investigation, found the big toe that had been infected for several weeks, but for which he had not sought medical attention, had disappeared. It turned out that Kiko, the family dog, had detected the infection and chewed the toe to the point that is was completely removed. Whilst the story had a an edge of humour to it, it came to light that Mr Douthett had in fact been suffering from type II diabetes, a condition he was unaware of, but for which he is now is being treated. Some of the long term damaging effects of diabetes are to the blood vessels and nerves that supply the limbs. Neuropathy is the direct damage of nerves and results in gradual loss of sensation and, if the skin is damaged, can result in infection, as experienced first hand by Mr Douthett. Unfortunately, many people have type II diabetes for years without knowing it, simply because any early symptoms can be vague and may not cause undue concern, or seem important at the time. Symptoms, amongst others include feeling thirsty all the time, frequent urination, unexplained tiredness and unexplained weight loss, muscle wasting and frequent infections, or slow-healing sores. It is important, therefore, to be aware of these symptoms and visit your GP if you have any concerns. Catching diabetes early is a key factor to managing the condition successfully. In Mr Douthett’s case he had his dog’s ability to smell his infection to thank, as it has enabled him to now regulate his glucose levels and hopefully avoid any further losses!
A dogs’ ability to detect infection is not surprising, given their acute sense of smell, believed to be around 100,000 times more acute than that of humans. The distinct olfactory gift that is associated with the canine species has, in fact, led scientists to conduct small-scale studies of dogs’ ability to detect the chemical markers of cancer, specifically melanoma, with extremely promising results. Much of the research in this area is based on the theory that a disease causes subtle chemical changes in the body, or alterations in metabolism, which in turn releases a different smell or chemical marker to which dogs can be trained to recognise. Whilst the concept that dogs may be used as a cancer diagnostic tool is doubtful, their use in heath care is certainly of significance. Indeed, their use as guide dogs and hearing dogs is now advancing to their use to warn their owners of epileptic seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks to name but a few. So they really are man’s best friend!