Can cats detect cancer?

Although, apparently, there are no studies on domestic cats detecting cancer in humans, I believe that they can based upon some straightforward research and an excellent first-hand account. Research does, however, indicate that dogs can detect many types of cancer through odour signatures in a person’s skin, urine, breath, sweat and faeces.

Cat nose can detect cancers?
Cat nose. Image by Sa Ka from Pixabay
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.


Dogs have more sensitive noses than cats because they have more receptors than cats in their noses. Cats have something like 50 million to 80 million odour-sensitive olfactory receptor cells in their noses whereas dogs, depending on the breed, have between 200 million and 300 million receptors. Notwithstanding this advantage in dogs for detecting scent emitted by diseases such as cancers, a wide-ranging study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science indicates that cats have more sensitive noses than dogs in respect of their ability to discriminate between a greater variety of smells.

I am sure that many cat owners have experienced the same as me in seeing their cat use their nose to recognise objects and to exercise quality control standards in respect of the food that they are given. The nose is another pair of eyes for the domestic cat and their sense of smell is far more important to them than it is for humans.

It is said that humans can’t detect cancer through smells and yet on the Psychology Today website a nurse, Joy, was able to detect the smell of cancer on facemasks worn by cancer patients. She was tested and she passed the test. She said that cancer has a “creamy yeast smell but as the volatile compounds get in the air and become subtler, more layers reveal a mucus and salt smell. The other samples don’t have that smell.”

We know that the noses of humans are less sensitive than the noses of cats. As mentioned, dogs possess 300 million receptors whereas humans have about 6 million. Humans can detect 1 million different odours, it is said.

The point that I’m getting to is that cats are in-between dogs and humans on the nose receptor scale and I’ve just said that a nurse could detect cancer and therefore it is entirely plausible that cats can detect cancer too.

And there is a story on the website which supports this argument. Ginny Monson, an animal intelligence advocate, tells us that about 26 years ago she adopted a tiny black kitten that “all but jumped into my car when I stopped briefly in a deserted industrial complex”. It was incredibly hot and the kitten took a bold step in survival. They formed a great relationship. When Ginny was 49 years old, unknown to her, she developed breast cancer. She became depressed, mentally and physically before her breast cancer was detected by her cat who at the time was five years old.

She began sitting on her breast. It became a ritual and for a while it irritated her but then she realised that her darling cat was sending out a message without words or sounds but by her presence. She was tested and found to have three different forms of breast cancer, all at stage one. One of the cancers was beginning to spread to the remainder of her body and it was at this point on her body that her cat companion sat.

She credits a little black kitten with saving her life in return for saving hers. She named her cat Kit-Kat and she passed over the rainbow bridge about 11 years ago but remains in Ginny’s “heart, mind and soul forever”.

I think that it is fair and reasonable to suggest that despite there being no hard factual studies on this topic, cats can detect cancer and it would be nice to see some science to support that conclusion.

Do you have a personal experience on this topic? If so please comment.

The study referred to above: Stress, security, and scent: The influence of chemical signals on the social lives of domestic cats and implications for applied settings.


1 thought on “Can cats detect cancer?”

  1. My 6 year old rescue cat from the flood in Houston a few years ago was diagnosed with lymphoma by my feline board certified vet about 6 months after he arrived. My 14 year old cat kept following him around with her nose sniffing his anus many times. I took him to a nearby vet to have his anal glands checked as that is what I suspected, but they were fine. I waited another month or so and the older cat continued to sniff when she could. I then took him to my board certified feline vet with the story and she,too, tried to express the glands, but nothing came out. She did bloodwork that I believe was then sent to Ohio State vet school,since they came up with the Feline
    Leukemia vaccine. It may have been sent to Texas A and M first and then on to Ohio, but the finding was lymphoma with very large number of white blood cells. He was put on two drugs on alternating days and over a period of 9 months and the count continued to decrease. He has been medicated 5 days a week for almost two years and is in total remission with all organ functions testing normal. other cat was able to smell his cancer and was totally responsible for me following up with visits to two vets, one being feline board certified ,but she didn’t diagnose it. It was diagnosed at Ohio State vet school, my alma mater, so a happy ending for now and millions of thanks to my 15 year old feline who was the first one to detect it.


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