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The Incredible Sense of Smell in the Dog

There are many ways in which people and dogs are similar, but an area in which dogs are much superior is in their olfactory ability, or their sense of smell.  Dogs can smell 100,000 times better than humans.  In tests, dogs have been able to detect a chemical in a solution diluted to 1 to 2 parts per trillion. The human brain has a large area devoted to vision, while dogs have a large portion dedicated to olfaction, in fact, 40% more of a dog's brain than a human's is committed to smell.  The average person has 5 million smell receptors, while the average dog, depending on breed, has 125 to 250 million smell receptors.  The Bloodhound has an incredible 300 million smell receptors!  Dogs can smell things up to 40 feet underground.  Dogs can even smell human fingerprints that are a week old!

Part of the reason dogs have an excellent sense of smell is the moist leathery surface of the nose determines the direction of air currents.  Also sniffing brings air with scents directly into the nostrils and then onto the moist surfaces inside the nasal cavity which catches the molecules so the dog's internal receptors can decode them.  It is believed that even long ear flaps can help their sense of smell by stirring up odors close to the ground.
People have taken advantage of this incredible sense of smell and trained dogs to detect certain odors.  One of the more unusual objects that dogs have been trained to find is whale feces. 

Whale researchers for years have been stymied by their inability to test whales in the wild.  It was then discovered that whale poop could give them information on diet, genetics, hormone status, level of toxins, etc. But how to find enough whale feces to get significant findings?  Whale feces floats for only about 30 minutes. One research group found only five samples in two weeks by searching on their own.  Then Tucker and Fargo came into their lives.  Tucker is a Labrador mix -breed dog who searches for Orca whale feces in Puget Sound, and Fargo is a Rottweiler who finds right whale poop in the North Atlantic. 

With the dogs on board, the research teams have found as many as 12 samples a day.  At first their success rate was less, only because the researchers underestimated the distance at which the dog could detect the odor.  With time the researchers learned that when the dog signaled , they should point the boat in the direction of the dog's nose and keep going until they found the feces;  this has been as far as 1.2 miles.  As one researcher said," The lowest-tech method turns out to be the most effective." Findings from these studies show that the orcas have had a drop in thyroid hormone; the researchers attribute this to a poor food supply.  This could explain why orcas had a 20% decline in population in the last decade in Puget Sound. 

The Atlantic study has not found the reason for the poor reproduction of the right whale since a hunting ban went into effect 70 years ago.  From a low of 100 whales, the population is now only about 300, while 100,000 used to swim those waters.  Research continues as long as the dogs keep finding samples!
Another amazing example of dogs detecting unusual things is the study that showed that dogs can identify people with cancer by smelling the person's breath or urine. The person's breath was used to find lung and breast cancer; urine was used to detect bladder or prostate cancer.  The dogs were accurate 99% of the time for lung cancer, and 88% of the time for breast cancer!  This is equal or better than high tech techniques such as scans.  This study was done with only two to three weeks training using pet dogs and the only previous preparation was basic puppy training.
For centuries dogs have helped people with hunting, herding, and protection.  These examples clearly show that dogs are capable of much more.  Only our imaginations may limit what dogs might do in the future.

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The Scents Dogs Sense

Here are some  examples where dogs are used for their incredible sense of smell:
1.    The USDA uses Jack Russell Terriers to detect brown tree snakes hidden on cargo being loaded on planes in Guam.
2.    The US Customs and Border Protection has 800 canine teams which look for explosives, drugs, concealed people, and even hidden currency.
3.    Dogs check international travelers at borders and airports for agricultural contraband and find 75,000 items a year.
4.    Dogs check packages mailed and delivered to agricultural areas for pests and their diseases which could devastate the ag industry in that area.
5.    Dogs work in IRS centers to look for explosives in letters and packages.
6.    Dogs are used by some exterminators to detect termite infestations.



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Testimonials

  •           8/29/2017

    I love Balboa Pet Hospital! Balboa Pet Hospital's staff is amazing! The staff is knowledgeable, caring and above all honest! I feel confident that my pets are getting the best possible care there. The staff has always taken time to answer all of my questions and if I think of something after my appointment, I can just email! I know I won’t have to wait too long for response.

    Unfortunately, this year I’ve had to make some really difficult decisions. The compassion the staff showed to both my pet and I made these unbearable times tolerable. I am indebted to both Dr. Del Rosso and (the wonderful) Dr. Ravn for their kindness, compassion and dedication.

    If you are new to the area or just looking for a new vet, please give Balboa pet Hospital a call!

  •           6/5/2017

    LOVE everything about this place!!! The people are all super nice & caring. I never feel like they’re trying to sell me stuff I don’t need. The vets (especially Dr. Alice Chan) are wonderful, I always fee; comfortable coming here whenever Walle has an issue. They even help me file the insurance claims after each visit! Would highly recommended any pet owners to see them for their fur-baby needs.

  •           6/5/2017

    My dog has been a regular patient since 7 years ago. Once in a while we visit other hospitals due to time conflicts. However, we always go back to Balboa Pet Hospital. My dog has bad allergy and the doctors and assistants always follow up with us after the treatments or visits, help us submit the insurance claims. It’s not a cheapest place to go but their patience and caring are irreplaceable.

  •           4/28/2017

    I’m glad to have found Balboa Pet Hospital near my home. It’s definitely a hidden gem! Dr. Chan saw my dog, Oreo, for her skin problem last week, and my three cats, Pepper, Tofu and Cola, today for annual check-up. She’s very patient (especially with Oreo who’s shy to strangers), knowledgeable and approachable. The front staffs are also very friendly and helpful. They are so prompt to reply my email (within a few hours when I checked back my mailbox). All my pets are about 1-year-old and I’ll definitely bring them here for their health issues/checkup in many years followed.

  •           5/4/2017

    Brought my dog here for a checkup and some minor concerns. Dr. Chan was very professional. She got my dog the treatment he needed and answered all my questions regarding my concerns. The rest of the staff were very friendly and gentle with my dog. You could tell that the staff are genuine animal lovers; definitely something you want when you entrust the health of your pet to someone.

  •           5 of 5

    Been bringing our animals to Balboa for over 25 years and will continue because they provide great advice and care. We love Dr. D and staff are really helpful and friendly. Now if I can find medical care for myself like my animals get at Balboa...

  •           5 of 5

    I have been a patron of Balboa Pet Hospital for almost 500 years now (wink). I love Everybody there and feel they are have always been a great resource and the BEST support system for everything pertaining to my pets.

  •          

    The staff is very kind and gentle, the doctors are very caring and patient when dealing with my scared cat Lulu. I appreciate the time they took to put her at ease and making this procedure as painless as possible for the both of us. Will definitely be spreading the word. Thank you Balboa Pet Hospital.
     

    Linda P.

    San Francisco, CA

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