While dogs don’t communicate the way humans do, many experts believe that canines have an innate ability to sense when their owners are unwell. Some even call it the ‘sixth sense’, which is supported by many anecdotal accounts of pet owners. So the ultimate question is this: can dogs sense when something is wrong with their owner?
There’s no absolute science to explain the answer to this. There’s so much left to study in terms of canine behavior and how their brains work. But if we are going to base it on pet owner experience, it’s safe to believe that our furry friends might be more attuned to our emotions than we know.
Why do dogs seem to have ‘super senses’?
In the wild, canines use their heightened senses to survive. From sniffing out the presence of a predator to finding their next meal, a dog’s senses are indispensable.
Aside from that, canines have a powerful sense of hearing. Dogs can hear high frequencies that are far from humans’ auditory ability. This is why dogs can hear cars from miles away or even storms before they arrive.
Moreover, dogs are equipped with their own night vision. Canines can see in low-light conditions way better than humans, which is a survival ability that comes in handy in the wild.
This same ability makes canines great allies of law enforcement. Many dogs are trained to sniff contrabands on airports, assist ill individuals, and find lost people. Some are even trained to smell gas leaks and the presence of termites.
Overall, a canine’s ‘super sense’ is Mother Nature’s design. In some cases, these senses allow dogs to tell us if something is wrong.
Can dogs sense when something is wrong with their owner?
Although dogs can’t speak, they have a heightened sense of smell and hearing. This makes them perceptive of various stimuli in the environment. In some cases, dogs can somehow sense that something is up with their owners.
So how can dogs do it? While it may sound mystical at first, science offers answers that may help explain how dogs react to sick or unwell owners. Here are some points that experts highlight:
🐶Dogs are beings of habit
Like humans, canines thrive in a predictable environment. They prefer sticking to a schedule, so if something changes abruptly, your dog will perceive that something isn’t right.
For example, when you get sick and fail to get up at the same time you usually do, your dog will start to get confused. This could explain why your canine may act weird.
Overall, experts say that dogs are naturally sensitive to changes, especially with their people. While dogs can’t tell exactly what’s wrong, they know that something isn’t right because you didn’t get up in time or you didn’t go out for work.
🐶Dogs can pick up changes in voice
Another thing experts mention is that dogs can pick up changes in their pet owners’ speaking voice. Each pet owner has a manner of talking to their dogs. Some prefer a high-pitched tone (similar to baby talk) or a calm and firm sound.
Like habits, dogs will soon get a grasp of your ‘normal’ speaking voice. However, if your voice gets coarse or if you speak differently, it will put off your dog. Your pet will know that something has changed or isn’t right with its owner.
Overall, it’s not clear whether dogs can associate changes in habits or speaking tone with sickness. Still, dogs who are well attuned to their owners will likely become clingier as they try to make sense of the changes.
🐶Dogs can identify unique scents of humans
Scent plays a big role in a canine’s way of perceiving and communicating with the world. Also, scent can help canines determine whether something is wrong with their owners or not.
Generally, each canine has a unique scent, which serves as its fingerprint. It allows them to identify pack members from intruders. In a domesticated setting, this scent tagging still holds true.
Like dogs, our bodies emit a unique scent. It’s one way our dogs get to know and remember us.
However, when we get sick, that scent will change. Getting infected with a virus/bacteria, taking medications, experiencing blood pressure changes, and so on will all cause scent changes in human bodies.
On the other hand, our dogs can perceive these changes in smell. After all, canines have over 300 million olfactory receptors, which is a far cry from the 6 million receptors an average human has.
This is the same reason why some dogs are bred as alert canines. The job of these working dogs is to sniff a specific scent emitted whenever a person experiences health challenges. One good example here is diabetic alert canines, which are trained to identify a specific scent that occurs during a sudden drop or rise in blood sugar levels.
Still, it’s important to know that some breeds have better sniffing power than others. Also, a dog’s ability to determine changes in scent isn’t absolute.
A dog’s ‘sixth sense’ is still anecdotal
As of now, a dog’s ability to sense something wrong about their owners are mostly anecdotal. This is an exception to canines trained for alert tasks.
Many pet owners have stories of their dogs pawing on their bodies only for them to realize that they are sick on that specific part. Meanwhile, there are also stories when dogs will bark incessantly to alert their owners of an accident.
Overall, the jury is still out whether canines are scientifically capable of such complex thinking.
Important note: dogs are far from psychics
Due to canines’ heightened senses, they can be trained to sense danger. This is why there are service dogs, alert dogs, police dogs, and military dogs. These dogs are bred, raised, and trained to serve a specific purpose.
While dogs tend to exhibit abilities to sense illnesses in humans, they aren’t psychics. Also, they should never be used as the only mode of diagnosis. This is much true for patients with alert dogs.
It doesn’t hurt to check if your dog seems to be telling you something. If you feel unwell, it’s always best to get checked. When it comes to health problems, early diagnosis is always the key to a full and speedy recovery.
However, you shouldn’t discount the possibility that your dog is acting weird due to an illness. If you’re in the pink of health, your dog might be the one suffering from a sickness. In this case, the veterinarian is the best person to consult.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can dogs sense when their owners are dying?
A: There are anecdotal accounts when dogs seem to sense death toward their pet owners. This is mainly attributed to the changes in the scent human bodies experience during sickness. Overall, not much is known yet about dogs’ ability to sense or predict death.
Q: Can dogs sense your pain?
A: Thanks to their enhanced sense of smell, dogs can somehow sense when they are in pain. This is due to the scent our bodies emit when we experience physiological changes. Also, the scent of pain medications may alert your dog that something is wrong.
Q: How do dogs act when you’re sick?
A: Each dog is different and so are their reactions whenever their owners are sick. Others will cling to their owners’ side while some will not show any behavioral changes. But since dogs are creatures of habit, sudden changes in their owners’ activities will likely trigger confusion and anxiety.
Q: Why is my dog constantly sniffing me?
A: Human bodies produce various scents, depending on their mood, health status, gender, and so on. These scents might be the reason why your dog is sniffing you all the time. Also, you’re probably due for a shower, so the constant sniffing is a reminder from your pet.
Q: What illnesses can dogs detect?
A: Dogs can be trained to detect health problems in humans like several types of cancers, diabetes, infections, and so on. However, the accuracy of these detections is still in question. After all, dogs aren’t doctors and their accuracy must be taken with a grain of salt.
Can dogs sense when something is wrong with their owner? According to anecdotal accounts of pet owners, it seems like dogs are capable of complex understanding than we currently know. Still, this begs for more expert take, so we can further understand how our pets think.