Study reveals trained dogs can detect scent of canine cancer in saliva samples


May serve as future screening tool for diagnosis of canine cancer with potential to improve overall quality of life and lifespan of cancer patients

A study1 recently published in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) demonstrated that dogs can be trained to use their sense of smell to distinguish between the scent of saliva samples from dogs with cancer and those from healthy controls with high accuracy. This can serve as potential screening tool to decrease the need for aggressive treatment and improve the chances of survival for canine cancer patients.

The study consisted of 6 pet dogs trained for odor discrimination over a 6-month period using a reward-based positive reinforcement method. Once the training was complete, a subset of samples not used during the training sessions were chosen for use during scent testing. The results revealed that the trained dogs could accurately distinguish between samples from cancer patients versus normal dogs with an average sensitivity of 90% and average specificity of 98%.1

The trained dogs using their sense of smell to identify canine cancer (Photo courtesy of the AVMA).

The trained dogs using their sense of smell to identify canine cancer (Photo courtesy of the AVMA).

The researchers obtained saliva samples from 139 dogs diagnosed with malignant tumors and 161 healthy control dogs for use during training and testing of the dog detection team. The samples from canine patients were collected before treatment with radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

"Early and non-invasive detection of cancer is a goal for veterinary oncology, and veterinary medicine in general," stated MacKenzie Pellin, DVM, assistant clinical professor of medical oncology at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and an author of the study, in an AVMA release.2 "While there is still much more research and exploration that needs to be done, our study provides a first step into a novel area of cancer detection for our companion animals."

Further studies are needed with a larger number of dogs, varied histories of cancer, use of non-cancer diseases as controls, and investigation of this technique in feline patients.1

In the release,2 the AVMA emphasized the importance early detection of canine cancer as it is one of the leading causes of death in dogs over 10 years old.3 The organization urges pet parents to consult with their veterinarians regarding screening options and be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer in dogs.


  1. Malone LA, Pellin MA, Valentine KM. Trained dogs can accurately discriminate between scents of saliva samples from dogs with cancer versus healthy controls. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2023 Mar 23:1-8. doi: 10.2460/javma.22.11.0486.
  2. Study: trained dogs can identify scent of canine cancer in saliva samples. News release. American Veterinary Medical Association. April 17, 2023. Accessed April 17, 2023.
  3. Davis BW, Ostrander EA. Domestic dogs and cancer research: a breed-based genomics approach. ILAR J. 2014;55(1):59-68. doi: 10.1093/ilar/ilu017.
Related Videos
Image Credit: © Przemyslaw Iciak -
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.