Do dogs have a sixth sense? Sometimes it appears so. They seem to be capable of identifying natural events and medical conditions to a degree that seems almost paranormal. This is due to an extremely sophisticated sensory array that allows them to detect some clues about upcoming events. A dog’s sense of smell is 100,000 times more powerful than ours. Their ability to detect smells is further improved by their wet noses, facilitating the collection of ambient molecules for detection. Dogs can also hear higher sound frequencies than us and detect far away noises.
It is a common sight, especially in South Florida, to see dogs become agitated before we realize that a lightning storm is coming our way. Their sense of hearing allows them to hear thunder long before storm clouds appear and sense minute changes in atmospheric pressure. Their heightened sense of smell allows dogs to sense humidity levels and even detect the ozone created by lightning long before the lightning is visible. Their fur enables them to sense faint changes in levels of static electricity. Dogs have also been known to display nervous behavior just before an earthquake. It is believed that they can hear and feel underground movements.
Dogs can detect some diseases in humans by sniffing out chemical changes in the body caused by illness. Service dogs are trained to alert their humans when they perceive specific smells and behavioral changes seen in cases of, for example, an event of hypoglycemia, a convulsion or migraines. They can sniff out some cancers (mainly ovarian, breast, lung, prostate cancer and melanomas) in the breath, urine or blood of the affected person. A dog’s ability to detect disease is not as accurate as a medical diagnostic test. However, they are very helpful in alerting us that there might be an important change in our bodies that needs to be checked out.
Dogs have the capacity to predict a person’s pregnancy and when she is about to give birth. They can sniff the change in hormones produced by the body during pregnancy. Some dogs even become more protective of the pregnant owner. They can also detect the change in lifestyle and behavior in a woman preparing to give birth, since they observe and know her habits and routines very well. They also detect changes in smells due to stress when a woman is about to give birth. Some dogs become clingy and refuse to separate from their owner just before she is ready to give birth.
Dogs can also detect our emotional state by observing facial expressions and body language. They can observe the size of our pupils, our posture, and other visual cues. They can detect fear by the hormones that are excreted, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Most interestingly, dogs can even detect subtle chemical cues that alert them that a person may be about to die due to chronic disease or old age. Dogs may choose to keep close to a person during this period, accompanying them on their final journey.
While dogs possess these incredible sensory skills, all animals perceive the world from a unique perspective that would leave any mortal impressed, especially the cats… but that is a story for another day.