Can a Dog Smell Death? The Surprising Truth

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell that is millions of times more powerful than humans. They are capable of detecting a wide range of scents, from drugs to explosives, and even diseases. But can they smell death?

According to experts, dogs can sense when someone is close to death or has already passed away. They can pick up on the changes in a person’s scent, behavior, and body language that often occur in the final stages of life. Some dogs are even trained to act as hospice dogs, providing comfort and companionship to people in their final days.

While dogs may not fully understand the concept of death, they can sense when something is wrong. Their ability to detect changes in scent and behavior can be a valuable tool in predicting and preventing potential dangers. As such, dogs have been used in various fields, including law enforcement, search and rescue, and medical detection.

The Sense of Smell in Dogs

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, which is far more powerful than that of humans. In fact, a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times more sensitive than ours. This is due to the number of olfactory receptors in their noses. While humans have around 6 million olfactory receptors, dogs have up to 300 million.

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Olfactory Senses

Dogs use their sense of smell to gather information about their surroundings. They can detect odors that are too faint for humans to perceive, and they can distinguish between different scents even when they are mixed together. This is because dogs have a specialized organ in their noses called the vomeronasal organ, which allows them to detect pheromones and other chemical signals.

Dogs also have a larger portion of their brains devoted to processing smells than humans do. This means that they can analyze scents in much greater detail and remember them for longer periods of time. In fact, dogs can remember the scent of a person or object for years, which is why they are often used in search and rescue operations.

Overall, a dog’s sense of smell is a vital tool that they use to navigate the world around them. By understanding how dogs use their olfactory senses, you can better appreciate the incredible abilities of these amazing animals.

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Can Dogs Smell Death?

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell that is 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than humans. It’s no wonder that many people believe that dogs can smell death. But is it true?

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How a Dog Can Detect Death

Dogs have a keen sense of smell that allows them to detect changes in the body’s chemistry. As a result, they can pick up on subtle changes that occur when someone is dying. For example, when a person is dying, their body produces a unique odor that dogs can detect.

In addition to this, dogs can also pick up on changes in a person’s behavior and body language. They may notice that someone is not moving or breathing as they normally would, or that their body is becoming colder.

Service Dogs and Hospice Dogs

Some dogs are trained to be service dogs or hospice dogs. These dogs are trained to provide comfort and support to people who are dying or who have a terminal illness. They can sense when someone is in pain or discomfort and provide emotional support to both the person and their family.

Service dogs can also be trained to alert medical professionals when someone is in distress. For example, they may be trained to bark or nudge their owner if they sense that their blood sugar is too low or if they are having a seizure.

In conclusion, while there is no definitive proof that dogs can smell death, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they can. Dogs are incredibly intuitive animals that can pick up on subtle changes in their environment. Whether you believe that dogs can smell death or not, there is no denying that they can provide invaluable support and comfort to people who are dying or who have a terminal illness.


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Diseases Dogs Can Smell

While they can probably smell more conditions than we have catalogued, we have enough scientific proof that they can smell certain diseases that people actively train dogs for this purpose. Let’s take a look at some of the conditions that we know 100% that certain dogs can smell.


This is the one that dog’s get the most credit for and it’s pretty amazing. Dogs can sniff-out many different kinds of cancers. This includes bladder, lunch, ovarian, breast, prostate, and even skin cancer. With the last, numerous owners have reported having moles that their dogs were obsessed with and some even tried to nibble off of them!

Low blood sugar

There is a chemical called Isoprene that occurs in our breath when our blood sugar is low and apparently dogs can smell it. They’re good enough at it, that people have trained numerous dogs for this purpose, and the science seems to back up their efficiency in detecting blood sugar changes.

A study done in 2019 took 27 dogs trained for this purpose and found that 81% of the time, they were able to recognize changes in blood sugar in the patients that they were there to sniff. You can read the study here if you would like, it’s definitely quite interesting.


Cortisol and Adrenaline are believed to be the ‘stress factors’ that allow dog’s to tell whenever we are frightened or simply very stressed. That old bit of wisdom that says not to be afraid around dogs because they can ‘smell your fear’ is apparently, if you’ll excuse us for saying it, ‘right on the nose’!


There are actually service dogs out there which are trained to sniff-out Narcolepsy and they can come in quite handy for sufferers of this affliction. While we haven’t isolated what it is specifically that they are sniffing out, we do know that dogs are detecting something and they have been successfully trained to respond.

When an owner of one of these special dogs is about to have an episode, their dog will usually catch the changes in their scent, and they can move in quickly to help ensure that the person has extra support so that they won’t fall down.

Canine Communication

Dogs communicate with their owners and other dogs through various means, including barking, howling, body language, and facial expressions. Understanding your dog’s communication style can help you better interpret their needs and emotions.

Barking and Howling

Barking is a common form of communication for dogs. They may bark to alert their owners of potential danger, to express excitement, or to demand attention. Howling, on the other hand, is often associated with loneliness or separation anxiety.

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It’s important to pay attention to the tone and frequency of your dog’s barks and howls. A high-pitched, rapid bark may indicate fear or anxiety, while a deep, slow bark may signal aggression or anger.

Body Language

Dogs also communicate through body language. They may use their tail, ears, and posture to express their emotions. A wagging tail, for example, can indicate happiness or excitement, while a tucked tail may signal fear or submission.

Pay attention to your dog’s body language, especially during interactions with other dogs or humans. Signs of fear or aggression, such as raised hackles or a stiff body, should be taken seriously and addressed immediately.

Facial Expressions

Dogs also use facial expressions to communicate. They may raise their eyebrows, tilt their heads, or show their teeth to express their emotions. A relaxed, open-mouthed expression may indicate contentment, while a snarling expression may signal aggression.

Observing your dog’s facial expressions can help you better understand their emotions and respond accordingly.


  • AKC: Understanding Dog Body Language
  • ASPCA: Canine Communication

Signs of Illness in Dogs

As a dog owner, it’s important to be aware of the signs of illness in your pet. Dogs can’t communicate with words, but they do show signs of discomfort or distress through their behavior and body language. Here are some common signs to look out for:

Appetite and Weight Loss

Dogs with illnesses such as diabetes may experience a loss of appetite and weight loss. If your dog suddenly stops eating or seems to be losing weight rapidly, it’s important to take them to the vet for a check-up. Keep track of your dog’s eating habits and weight to notice any changes.

Body Language and Behavior

Dogs may exhibit changes in their body language and behavior when they’re not feeling well. They may become lethargic, avoid physical activity, or seem to be in pain. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and notice any changes in behavior. Some other signs to look out for include:

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  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst or urination
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Limping or difficulty moving

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to take your dog to the vet for a check-up. Early detection and treatment of illnesses can help your dog recover more quickly and improve their quality of life.


Emotional Well-Being in Dogs

Dogs are not just pets, they are family members, and they can be emotionally affected by death just like humans. Emotional well-being is an important aspect of a dog’s life, and it is essential to pay attention to any signs of grief, withdrawal, depression, anxiety, or stress.

Grief and Withdrawal

Dogs can grieve the loss of a human or animal companion, and they may show signs of withdrawal, such as loss of appetite, lower water intake, and irregular sleeping patterns. They may also appear withdrawn and lose interest in going for walks or normal play. It is important to provide comfort and support during this time and ensure they have enough time to process their emotions.

Depression and Anxiety

Dogs can also experience depression and anxiety, which can manifest in different ways. They may become lethargic, disinterested in activities they once enjoyed, and they may even show signs of aggression. It is important to provide a safe and comfortable environment and seek professional help if necessary.

Research has shown that nature can provide positive impacts by offering stress relief, boosting mood, increasing social interaction, encouraging physical activity, and soothing emotions. Spending quality time with your dog, taking them for walks, and playing with them can help improve their emotional well-being.

In conclusion, dogs can sense death, and they can be affected by it emotionally. It is important to pay attention to any signs of grief, withdrawal, depression, anxiety, or stress and provide support and comfort during this difficult time.


In conclusion, dogs have an impressive ability to sense death. They can detect changes in our scent and behavior, which can alert them to an impending demise. This ability is not limited to trained dogs, as even untrained dogs can sense death.

Dogs are more than just pets; they are companions that offer love, play, and attention. They are loyal and protective, and they can sense when we are feeling down. They can be a source of comfort and support when we need it most.

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However, dogs can also be messy creatures. Wet dog smell is a common issue that many dog owners face. To combat this, regular grooming and bathing can help keep your dog smelling fresh and clean.

Overall, dogs are incredible animals that offer us so much. They can sense death, offer companionship, play, and attention, but they also require care and maintenance. If you are considering getting a dog, make sure you are prepared to provide them with the love and care they deserve.


Can all dogs really smell death coming?

While not all dogs can smell it to the same degree, when it comes to olfactory senses they have definitely won the lottery. Humans have around 6 million olfactory receptors that constitute what we call our sense of smell but dogs? They have up to 300 million of them.

This allows them to sense mood changes or diseases that cause minute changes in the way our bodies, sweat, and urine smell and so they are usually quite aware when their human owner has become very ill.

Not all dogs have this ability to the same degree, however, and even if you train 2 dogs of the same breed to sniff out disease, you can get different success rates. That said, there are dogs that have been trained to sniff out things like cancer in the bladder, lungs, ovaries, and even high blood sugar in diabetes patients.

Technically, it would be more accurate to say that dogs can smell disease, but to a degree that they tend to know when their owner is very ill and needs their comfort and that’s fascinating enough, all on its own!

How do dogs act when they smell illness?

Every dog owner has seen this in action, but it’s so natural to a dog’s behavior that many of us don’t really think about it. When you are feeling depressed or even ill, your dog approaches and stops for a moment, raising their snout and then tilting their head to the side as if puzzled.

After a moment, they’re shoving a wet nose on you, nudging you to get your attention. That momentary pause is your dog giving you a ‘scan’ with their nose and smelling a problem. It takes a little concentration and it makes sense, when you think about it.

With their superior sense of smell, the house is filled to the brim with other scents that they need to tune out – much like singling out your friend’s voice at a concert. If you haven’t noticed your dog doing this, then the next time you are feeling poorly we recommend keeping an eye out for it.

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Once you recognize the behavior, you’ll spot them doing it all of the time, even if you are just acting differently around your friends or laughing uproariously at something you’ve seen on the TV. Dog’s check us out with their noses, for good or ill – it’s just one of their superpowers.