a chihuahua in a nurse's hat.

It all starts with a cough. I roll over in my bed thinking about all the things I need to do that day and realize I’m not well. My dog seems to have realized it before me. She’s planted her tiny feet on my chest, determined that all 4.5 pounds of her is going to keep me from getting up.

It’s a common story reported by many chihuahua owners, but what does it really mean? Does your chihuahua really know when you’re sick? According to researchers, the answer is a resounding yes.

It’s All in the Nose

Humans have about 5 million smell receptors. In comparison, your chihuahua has about 220 million. That means your dog’s sense of smell is far more powerful than anything we could ever dream of, and is capable of sniffing out the slightest changes in your health.

Dogs are so good at detecting changes in our health, that they have even been trained to sniff out specific diseases in humans such as cancer or even Covid-19. Trained dogs can correctly identify the cancer they are trained to seek 99% of the time.

With so much evidence in trained dogs, there’s no doubt that they can tell a change in our health status by smell alone. Add on the hacking and sneezing that typically comes with our other illnesses and there’s no doubt our dogs know if we are ill.

The next question should be: How much do they care?

Caring Creatures

Although there are no studies on how much dogs worry when we’re sick, there’s good evidence that they do care. An article in the Chicago Tribune mentions dogs kept at hospice care facilities can be used as a measure of the patient’s well-being. If a dog chose to stay with one person specifically, it was time to call family to say their good-byes.

Besides being able to smell disease, dogs can also sense when someone is feeling sad, anxious, or ill in other ways. Studies including MRI scans as well as behavioral tests have shown again and again that dogs worry about their owners, and are adept at reading their moods.

Our dogs love us, in the truest sense of the word. You can bet that when your dog is snuggled up tight in your lap the moment you feel ill, it’s because they care. Their behavior changes are an effort to make you feel better.

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By Andrea

Andrea is a dedicated dog mom of three chihuahuas. She has over a decade of experience as a dog groomer, chihuahua owner, and more recently as a dog trainer. She loves all things canine, particularly chihuahuas.

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