Dogs can sense PTSD and other trauma in humans through their breathing, study finds

A recent study found evidence that dogs may be able to “sniff out” the onset of an episode of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through people’s breathing.

Researchers found that some dogs could identify stress-related chemicals in the breath of people with PTSD symptoms.

Thanks to their incredible sense of smell, dogs can already detect other human diseases like cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis, among others.

Laura Kiiroja, the first author of the study from Dalhousie University in Canada, said Medscape Medical News, “Our study is the first to demonstrate that at least some dogs can detect putative stress-related volatile organic compounds in human breath that are associated with PTSD symptoms.”

The new study included 26 mostly civilian “breath givers” who had experienced various types of trauma, with 50 percent of them meeting criteria for PTSD.

Additionally, the study also involved two female pet dogs specifically trained to target odors from donor samples.

The dogs were named Ivy, a red Golden Retriever, and Callie, a German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix.

Golden Retriever dog putting head on owner's lap.  Owner's hand stroking pet puppy
Robert Way /

Donors were asked to donate their breath by attending sessions in which they recalled their traumatic experiences while wearing two different masks: one worn when the participant is calm and one worn when the participant is remembering of his trauma.

At the same time, the dogs’ ability to discern and differentiate between the two samples was also tested.

The researchers found that both dogs had 90% accuracy on all sets of samples where they had to differentiate between a “calm” mask and a “stressed” mask.

Kiroja revealed that both dogs took their work very seriously and credited their “unlimited appetite for delicious treats” as a motivational asset.

“In fact, it was much harder to convince them to take a break than to start working. Callie, in particular, made sure there was no hesitation. Kiroja reveals.

The researchers pointed out that while there are some studies and evidence that dogs may be able to detect bodily chemicals linked to human stress, no studies have examined whether dogs can detect such chemicals linked to PTSD .

The researchers concluded that the study provides evidence that dogs can be trained to detect upcoming episodes of distress.

However, they are aware that there is still a long way to go and that validation studies are still needed to confirm the promising results of their study.


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