The Surgical Animal

A canine can sniff out a disease, even before it’s diagnosed, which means that if your pet is paying special attention to certain parts of your anatomy, don’t ignore it

“He kept sniffing my right breast for a whole 5 days,” a 62-year-old lawyer friend of mine was speaking to me about her Labrador, Oscar, as she narrated the story of how she discovered she had cancer. “He even on occasion dug his snout into my bosom to tell me something was amiss.”

Oscar had lived with her for the past 8 years after the unexpected passing of her husband. She had no children and he was given priority over everything, including her high-profile clients who came to consult her at the home office she worked out of. Oscar was always around – attending meetings, briefings, and the mediations that took place in the office – and if anyone had a problem with him, they were explicitly asked to leave. “My dog knows more law than you do,” she had once told a client who requested for the hound to be taken to another room while discussing a sensitive matter.

“So, for the first few days, I simply passed it off as him being horny,” she said in her usual unruffled style. “But he would not let people get close to me and suddenly became very clingy. I could not understand what was going on!”

“This can happen with pets if you change their routine or they are unwell themselves, if they can’t see or hear properly,” I interjected, having heard a few such stories. “But did you check for a lump, could you feel one in your breast at all?”

“No, I couldn’t feel one!” she exclaimed, gesturing animatedly. “I could only confirm that there was something after I went to my doctor and he pointed it out.” The mammogram showed it was the size of a pea, and she went ahead and got it removed in its infancy. This required her to be only on oral chemotherapy, which she has been tolerating without any side effects, and she is currently in remission.

“He really deserves an Oscar for all the drama he created in making you aware of this and prodding you to get diagnosed,” I told her. “Best male actor in a supporting role!” she acceded with a gratified laugh that this was all behind her now.

Dogs have a sense of smell that is several hundred thousand times stronger than that of humans. It helps them detect various chemicals that the body emits when a person is ill; imagine what bad body odour must do to them! With astounding accuracy, a canine can smell lung cancer on someone’s breath, pinpoint a mammary tumour, or detect bladder or prostate cancer in someone’s urine. If your pet is paying special attention to certain parts of your anatomy, it’s time you do the same.

Some dogs can detect epileptic seizures 30–40 minutes before they occur. They can sniff out the odour of a seizure or may be picking up an energy frequency or vibration that the human emits prior to a seizure. Science can only prove what it knows, but animals know so much more. There are organizations that provide service dogs for people with epilepsy, and, in several cases, this has been lifesaving: the reactions exhibited by these dogs before the onset of a seizure has given epileptics valuable time – time to take their medication, which prevents or reduces the severity of the seizure, and time to move somewhere safer, where an injury is less likely to occur.

Based on this research, scientists are trying to build electronic noses that are as powerful as their canine counterparts. As of now, however, e-noses are not nearly half as effective. Dogs have also been able to diagnose the coronavirus with greater than 95% accuracy, and in some countries they are used to screen patients at airports and railway stations. In our country, they ought to be trained to bite those carrying fake RT-PCR test results to travel.

As part of the Zoroastrian funeral rituals, a dog is brought near the dead body to confirm that the individual is truly dead before they are carried away. It also could be that we Parsis don’t trust our doctors fully and need to wait for one final ‘lab’ result. It is also believed that a dog’s gaze is considered to be purifying and drives off demons. The bridge to heaven, our scriptures say, is guarded by dogs.

I recently went for a trek with a bunch of friends. The moment we got out of our car, a handsome German shepherd appeared at the foot of the hill, the kind whose shaggy neck you couldn’t help but jiggle in your palms. He was black, brown, and golden, and had decided to hike with us as if he was instructed to by some higher power. Sometimes he led the way and other times he walked behind, but he never left my side. He growled at others at the edge of the cliff to secure our path. I wondered if he was sent to protect and guide us, and I felt a deep connect with him. We fell in love instantly. It felt as if a part of my soul was awakened.

But this dog kept doing something strange. He kept sniffing my backside.  Intermittently. After these recent stories I had come across, I wondered if he was detecting a rectal cancer, and I freaked out, my mind’s eye imagining myself post surgery and radiation, sitting with a colostomy jutting out of my abdomen. Until it dawned on me that the dog was really only after the scrumptious chicken sandwiches in my bag pack. The moment we reached the top, he wolfed them all, instantly demystifying all the spiritual significance I had given him so far. In his language, I guess I was barking up the wrong tree.

Animals speak to us all the time. It’s we who need to evolve to understand what they are telling us.

30 Comments on “The Surgical Animal
  • Supriya Correa says:

    That dog needs a job in your clinic…

  • Gurudutt Bhat says:

    The dog is hundred pc parsi…like them he sniffed nonveg food a mile away

  • Chaitaniya A Karnik says:

    It’s a great pleasure to see a doctor, such as yourself write this above piece. The world is connected in ways you can’t even imagine. There a beautiful YouTube video about Judi Dench listening to her trees. Check it when you have time! And God bless you and your hands!

  • Tozar Heerjee says:

    Hi Doc,very interesting to know about dogs detecting serious disease in humans. Thanks.

  • Chanda says:

    It feels good to read the way you’ve highlighted the most important aspect of -man’s best friend Only a canine lover would realise the ‘life saving’ therapy that a dog could impart.
    Once again youve strummed the right note ‘A dog is definitely man’s best friend ‘ in need and in deed – indeed!

  • Chanda says:

    By the way, lovely refreshing photos.
    Thank you!

  • Priyanka Dey says:

    Such a beautifully written piece. So refreshing to see such a romantic side to you, for animals 😀 . Many new discoveries about you Dr. M especially hiking. Keep surprising us and sharing such heart warming pieces.

  • Anjali Patki says:

    Hi dr Mazda, my family and I , our dearest friends are parsi, and they all love their pets. Your observations are astonishingly true. Lovely write up. Keep them coming.

  • Hutoxi Doodhwala says:

    Such a nice article!
    We at Ahura Support, a support group for adults with special needs use animal assisted therapy sessions for our beneficiaries. It calms them and does wonders.
    Keep writing Mazda! Love to read what you write.

  • Navzer Irani says:

    So very true. That dog will follow u in the chain of evolution and you will move on …. To greater achievements in your chosen field saving Humanity.

  • Neelam Shirsat says:

    Amazing, interesting indeed 👌👌👌

  • Kashmira says:

    “That dog kept sniffing my back side……”
    Ovaryu Mazda,
    Thank God for our love for food.
    Lovely article.


    What an interesting article Mazda. I knew about dogs being brought into sniff a person who has passed on, but did not know the other side that they can detect an illness. What a nice experience you had with the German Shepard who came out to accompany you all on your trek…,,👍🏼

  • Meher Modi says:

    Every sunday I look forward to reading your article as you share slices of your life and nuggets of very useful information.

    Thank you for investing your time thusly.

    Cheers !

  • T George Koshy says:

    Loved that Mazda..pretty new info to me..didn’t know they could know when a person has seizures..Have heard about them detecting CORONA virus..loved the photos of u with the mutt too..please keep writing..

  • Mahashweta Biswas says:

    Very well written Mazda. I liked that part of the dog sniffing your backside to hv you freaking out😂😂

    This is a revealation of dogs sniffing & alerting a problem.


  • Thrity Dadabhoy says:

    Did you not bring the dog home with you? Sometimes one sees some nomadic groups on Indian highways, a donkey or horse loaded with their meager belonging and their children, while the men and women walk along, and sure enough a dog or two in tow. Try going anywhere near them and you will see the protective instinct of the dogs, fierce barking and snarling!
    Dogs have evolved from wolves and inherited certain instincts while we have evolved from monkeys and that sums it all up!!!
    Wonderful article

  • Gloria Msampha says:

    Interesting piece of information. Will take note of my dog’s behaviour. He is always licking my leg when I’m sitting down. I had a knee replacement done on my left knee. Guess he is trying to tell me time to get the other knee looked at too🤔

  • Dr Nitin Gupta says:

    Excellent information.we need to work on it

  • Monica says:

    Mazda, this piece of writing has created a lot of awareness. Most people are ignorant about animals and dismiss them as pests, and mostly I’ll treat them.
    Bravo. I hope this article is forwarded many times in many of our vernacular languages to sensitise us to these devoted, intelligent friends.

  • Marzin says:

    Maybe in the future we will have “PEThescopes” instead of stethoscopes 😊

  • Arun Pushkarna says:

    Hi Mazda,
    I believe your article goes beyond the purpose of merely educating the reader regarding the amazing capabilities of canines to sniff out health issues. It is an amazing display of modesty by a highly accomplished surgeon who is willing to give the dog his due.
    Your personality never ceases to amaze me.
    God bless you Mazda.
    Feel privileged to address you as ‘son’

  • Lois Juma says:

    Always captivating. I always enjoy your article.

  • Martha J Quaghe says:

    Dr. Mazda, That’s another very interesting and good article.
    Hearing of this for the first time in my life.
    Thank you very much

  • Vispi Mistry says:

    What a lucidly written hilarious piece Mazda and a real learning revealation of doggies sense of smell. Just wait for sundays to read your pieces and the true experiences of life you share with us. Let them roll.

  • Binaifer Sahukar says:

    Dogs loyalty is a given but this is the first time I learnt about their diagnostic skills. There is always a takeaway from your writings Maz.

  • Rohinton Sanjana says:

    Hey, Doc!! That’s a revelation!! Heard of dogs having a hunch or premonition but not of such detection abilities. Great to know of another facet of dog personality. Wonderful article!!! Great insight!! Pls keep it coming, Mazda!!!

  • Krishna Shroff says:

    Very well penned down sir!
    You should’ve brought the German shepherd home with you!
    Lovely write up, please keep them coming!

  • Rita singh says:

    Very unique and interesting piece of information doctor.


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