Dog Sniffed Out Brain Cancer Years Before Official Diagnosis, Owner Says

The incredible story of a dog credited with discovering her owner's brain cancer before he did has amazed the internet.

Mia who is from Dublin, Ireland, shared the story on Reddit's r/TrueOffMyChest forum on Tuesday where it has received thousands of upvotes and hundreds of comments.

She explained how Jack Russell terrier Sox found her dad's cancer before the family knew anything about it.

Sox the Jack Russell terrier
Pictures of Jack Russell terrier Sox who was been credited with discovering her owner's terminal brain cancer before doctors. silkedcosmo/Reddit

One day, Sox and the family's other dog started licking the side of Mia's dad's head. Any chance they'd get, they would rush to intensely lick his head in a very specific place.

The licking continued for around two years, and the family was so used to it that they had stopped noticing.

Mia's dad ran marathons and had a recurring pain in his leg. He put it down to muscle pain until one day, he fell. When he was evaluated by a doctor who could not find anything physically wrong with his leg, Mia's dad was referred to a neurologist who found a cancerous tumor.

The tumor was located in the exact spot that the dogs had been licking.

The theory that dogs can detect cancer has been researched for decades after it was first raised in 1989 when an article in the British medical journal The Lancet described the case of a woman concerned about a mole that her dog would constantly sniff at and try to bite. The mole turned out to be malignant melanoma.

In more recent years, studies have shown how trained dogs can identify cancer in some cases. Scientists have recorded evidence of dogs detecting cancers in urine and breath samples of patients with bladder cancer, lung cancer, ovarian and colorectal cancers.

While scientists have not yet detected the chemical analysis that makes cancer biomarkers identifiable to dogs in breath, sweat, or urine, it is suggested that if this can be found, it may be possible to develop a computer screening system with the same sensitivity and more accuracy.

Mia told Newsweek: "Sox was licking dad's head for more than two years, continuously when she could get the opportunity. She would get behind his head, sometimes place a paw on his shoulder and lick the side of his head—the same side the tumor was found."

After the diagnosis, doctors operated to remove the brain tumor, and after the surgery Sox never licked Mia's dad's head again.

"We didn't really know dogs could detect something as serious as cancer," said Mia: "I was so young I just thought she was trying to groom him."

Five years after the diagnosis, no new cancer has been found since the treatment, but sadly Mia's dad has since been diagnosed with motor neuron disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is a rare condition that affects the brain and nerves throughout the body, causing weakness that gets worse over time. With no treatments, ALS can significantly shorten life and eventually leads to death.

"My dad is terminal, he is quite unwell, he has spasticity in his hands and slurred speech," said Mia: "He can't walk very well and now uses a wheelchair. He is an incredible man and an even better father."

Since his ALS diagnosis, Mia says that Sox has remained her dad's "most loyal and supportive best friend" and rarely leaves her owner's side.

Amazed by the story, Reddit users shared their reactions to the post, with many sharing similar accounts of their dogs helping them reach a diagnosis. One commenter said: "Our dog knew my mother had colon cancer before anyone else. He started lying down next to her every day and putting his head on her stomach."

Another Redditor wrote: "That's what happened to us with my mom! One day one of our German [shepherds] started nuzzling my mom's left breast and trying to lick the area, it was a brand new behavior for him and it freaked my mom out because he was insistent and intentional about it so she went and got a mammogram: they found a spot that ended up being a 2cm [one inch] tumor. Some dogs really do seem like they have that 6th sense."

"Dogs are our angels," said another commenter, while one reply said: "Sox sounds like a really special lady! I'm so glad your dad has her as a friend."

"She wakes up every morning and begs to go into my dad," explained Mia: "[She] doesn't leave his side until he gets downstairs where she immediately commences protection mode. Sox is a very good girl."

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