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Pat your pet to keep 
the doctor away  By Billy Roberts


GANDHI once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

   DOGS are being trained to react to various conditions, such as sniffing cancer.


DOGS are being trained to react to various
conditions, such as sniffing cancer.
This is quite evident, in our so-called modern and advanced age, when we look at the way in which some countries regard animals. In ancient Egypt, anyone caught being cruel to cats would be executed with no questions asked!

Thankfully, the majority of people in the western world treat animals with great fondness and respect. Most families have a pet of one kind or another. Whether a dog or a cat, he or she is nearly always considered as one of the family.

This does not in any way mean cruelty to animals no longer happens because, sadly, we know that it does. However, both dogs and cats contribute far more to the family atmosphere than a mere furry presence.

It is really only over the last twenty years or so that it has been realised just how much dogs and cats affect our lives from a psychological as well as a physical perspective.

Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that children brought up with a dog or cat are far more sensitive, caring and emotionally balanced than those raised in a family without a pet.

Much more than this, it is now widely accepted that pets, particularly dogs and cats, possess the extraordinary ability to make us feel better when we are not too well or simply out of sorts.

Our dog or cat always seems to know when we are under the weather and will always insist on cuddling up to us on the settee in an effort to make us feel better.

There is no doubt that shows of affection from a pet are not only comforting when you’re off colour, but they really do make you feel better.

Although in previous years the healing that occurred was thought to be simply a psychological phenomenon, today there appears to be a more scientific explanation why it occurs.

These days, dogs are being trained to react to various conditions ranging from sniffing cancer to warning of the onset of an epileptic seizure.

All in all, there is far more to your furry lodger than you realise, giving a whole new meaning to the expression, “Not all angels have wings.”

This would suggest that a pat a day really does help to keep the doctor away. Indeed, some medical practitioners are even recommending that infirm, elderly people get themselves a dog or a cat as a companion instead of being prescribed tranquilisers, sleeping pills or another form of medication.

A pet really does help to relieve stress and anxiety. Moreover, there is now a great deal of evidence to suggest that they also have the ability to ease pain.

You might have noticed that when a painful back is bothering you, your dog or cat will gravitate to the affected area, where he or she will settle down behind you.

Pets not only possess a sixth sense, but their brains contain a neurological component which allows them to monitor molecular changes in the atmosphere and an acute sensing faculty which tells them something is not quite right.

German Shepherd   

To forewarn households in volcanic areas of an impending eruption, some families keep cats or dogs. They can sense it will occur up to 24 hours beforehand. 

So-called Enviro-Dogs are now being trained to inspect the overall structure of a building to reassure a prospective buyer that it is structurally sound before a purchase is made.

Turning to war zones, the military rely on canine sniffers to locate the whereabouts of an explosive device and to help rescue victims buried in the rubble of a building destroyed during an air raid.

From all of this, we can see there is far more to our pets than we thought 50 or so years ago. Although cats and dogs are very different species, they both play extremely important parts in the process of healing their human carers.

They appear to discharge an extremely subtle energy that encourages the release of endorphins in us. These are the brain’s natural morphine-like hormones that ease pain and make us feel good.

Elizabethan apothecaries obviously understood the healing nature of cats and believed that our feline friends possessed a powerful component essential for the alleviation of various inflammatory conditions.

With the belief that cat fur could ease the pain of gout and arthritis, as well as for warmth, it would be draped over sufferers’ beds in the winter months. However, I am sure that the creature passed of natural causes before its fur was used.

Sometimes, an apothecary’s belief in the healing ability of cats would be carried to extremes. They would bleed a cat’s ear, mixing the blood with an infusion of herbs, honey and vinegar, which was orally administered to a person suffering from shingles and other maladies.

Whether this vile concoction brought about any positive results is uncertain, but it cannot have done much good to the cat.

It’s the general consensus that both dogs and cats possess a sixth sense in that they appear to be able to detect impending disasters before they occur. You could term it a sort of early warning system.

Whether these abilities constitute being psychic or are just an indication that the overall functioning of their brains is completely different from ours remains to be seen. However, what it may well suggest is that we can learn a great deal from our pets, especially in the way that they treat us and each other.



You must have noticed that cats seem to have an uncanny ability for finding their way back home. Regardless of distance, they nearly always return home just in time for their evening meal.

Cats separated from their owners in transit have been known to find their way back over hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles. This is because they have their own highly developed and very sophisticated neurological navigation system, which is very similar to that of birds.

Whilst a cat is living in a house, its brain makes a mental note of the angle of the sun at specific times of the day. In the event of your cat getting lost, by calculating the angle of the sun, it can trace its way back home. And no – it doesn’t have to be a sunny day because it uses polarized light to get its bearing.


It is now a known scientific fact that keeping a pet makes us less prone to minor illnesses such as backaches, colds and headaches. They can even help with depression and anxiety.

It is also a proven fact that stroking a dog or cat helps to relieve stress and reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels.


In 2003, research took place at Cambridge University and Addenbrooke’s Hospital to train Labradors and Alsatians as diagnostic animals to sniff out prostate and breast cancer simply by allowing them to smell the odour of a sufferer’s urine.

Dr Barbara Sommerville said they intended to train dogs to distinguish the odour of urine from men with malignant prostate tumours.

To confirm their success rate, they would also be presented with urine from healthy men to allow them to assess their findings and eliminate the possibility of chance.

At the time, Dr Sommerville told the BBC: “If there is a consistent change in odour, the dogs will be able to detect it; of that we are in no doubt.

“At the moment, identifying prostate cancer is an inexact science. The tests are serum tests, which provide a lot of false positives and some false negatives.

“These create a lot of problems, especially as the next stage of diagnosis is multiple biopsies.

“Our research would be based on the fact that a dog’s sense of smell is so acute that it can detect any change in odour.

“There have been recorded cases of dogs spontaneously alerting owners about changes to moles that have turned out to be cancerous.”

Today, dogs are also being used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s patients. The effect they have on someone suffering with this condition is proving quite astounding.

This is now available across Canada and is run by the St John Ambulance Dog Therapy Programme. Meanwhile, cancer-sniffing dogs have been approved for an NHS trial in the UK.



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