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Medical Detection Dogs/Medical Alert Dogs

formerly known as Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs. 

In March 2011, the charity formerly known as Cancer and Bio-detection dogs officially changed its title to Medical Detection Dogs.

The charity is dedicated to training dogs in the recognition of human disease by odour, and so far they have had considerable success in the early detection of various different forms of cancer. Medical Detection Dogs continue to work with top scientists at Cardiff and Bristol Universities and Endocrinology specialists at Bristol NHS Trust to try and establish exactly what it is the dogs are detecting.  Clinicians and scientists are now studying the data to help in the development of an electronic ‘nose’. 

Medical Alert Dogs are also trained by the charity.  These dogs are able to alert their owners prior to a medical emergency.  Dogs can detect changes in the blood sugar of diabetics, recognise the onset of seizures, and detect changes in cortisol levels in sufferers of Addison’s disease.  Most recently the charity is researching the use of dogs for patients suffering from severe pain seizures and narcolepsy, a malfunction of the sleep/wake regulating system in the brain causing sleep attacks and paralysis. 

At present seventeen of these dogs have been placed, however money continues to be a major concern.  Now that the charity has a good understanding of the best ways to train the dogs, they badly need to expand their activities to meet the demand.   There is a current waiting list of three years! 

Suitable dogs are also needed.  There is no breed preference and most recently they have successfully trained an Affenpinscher!

Contact details:
Medical Detection Dogs
3 Millfield
Greenway Business Park
Great Horwood
Milton Keynes
MK17 0NP

Below is an article written in March 2010 describing some of the remarkable achievements of this charity when it was known as Cancer and Bio-detection dogs and suggesting some ways in which people can help to raise funds for this life-saving organisation. 

The role of service dogs

A very important part of the human/dog relationship is the way in which dogs serve people.  Up until the beginning of the 20th century dogs were mainly used for hunting, herding, guarding, pulling carts and sledges, rescue, warmth and companionship, but as societies and environments have changed, so has the role of the dog.

During the First World War in Germany it was recognised that a dog’s talents could be used in other directions and efforts were made to provide dogs as guides to blind servicemen.  The attributes of a guide dog require a certain temperament, level of stamina and size so this work tends to be breed-restrictive using mostly German shepherds, Labradors and retrievers but eventually other breeds of dogs were found to be equally useful in assisting humans with disabilities such as hearing dogs, seizure alert dogs and dogs for the disabled, thus opening up a whole new career to dogs of all different shapes, sizes and colours.

It was not until this century that the dog’s superior olfactory sense was proved to have the potential of saving human lives.


The seed was planted in 2002 when Clair Guest, who was then training Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, heard a radio interview with orthopaedic surgeon, Mr John Church, during which he suggested that dogs might be able to detect cancer using their remarkable sense of smell.  Clair had been thinking along the same lines.  A friend of hers had had a mole on her leg that doctors diagnosed to be benign but her border collie, through her unusual behaviour, led her to believe differently.  When the surgeons took a biopsy of the mole, they found it to be malignant.  Had it not been treated immediately, it could have proved fatal.  Clair’s friend realised that she owed her life to her dog, Trudy.

Clair Guest contacted Mr Church and together they came up with a research study that Buckingham Hospitals NHS Trust and the Amerderm Trust were willing to fund.


In 2004 the ground breaking study was reported in the British Medical Journal after Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs had trained dogs to successfully sniff out bladder cancer in urine samples.  Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs in conjunction with the medical profession can now offer the possibility of an earlier diagnosis of cancer that will allow for a greater chance of successfully treating the disease. 

The dog’s remarkable ability to ‘sniff out’ chemical changes within the human body is also used for the detection of hypoglycaemia in diabetic patients and, most recently, to detect low cortisol levels in a patient with Addison’s disease.   In both cases the dog is able to alert the patient to take their medication before their condition reaches crisis point.

The training of cancer and bio-detection dogs takes a completely new approach.  Dogs are given a problem to solve rather than being shown what to do.  Some of the most successful dogs have been unwanted pets and therefore it is not only the recipients who benefit but also the dogs themselves who have been given a new lease of life.

Cancer and Bio detection Dogs in collaboration with researchers from Bristol University and endocrinology consultants from a Bristol hospital have made some remarkable progress in a very short space of time and intend to maintain this level of success by training more dogs to detect other cancers including breast, prostate and mouth cancers.  Supported by Amerderm and the NHS Bucks Trust, they intend to develop their work with Hypo Alert Dogs and to gain a further understanding of both hypoglycaemia and hyperglycaemia.

Some Personal Case Histories

Each of these brief case histories describe the way in which a dog has saved the life of its owner not just by using its incredible sense of smell but also through the willingness of the dog to alert their human companion.

Maureen Burns and her collie cross, Max


Maureen noticed that her normally lively collie/cross, Max had changed his behaviour quite radically.  He became withdrawn and would sniff her breath and nudge her right breast.  On examining her breast she noticed a lump and went for a mammogram and scan but nothing was found.  Occasionally tumours are not detected by these methods of diagnosis and her surgeon took biopsies of the lump.  The results confirmed that Maureen had a malignant tumour on her right breast.

Following two operations and radiotherapy Maureen has an excellent prognosis. Max no longer sniffs her breath and even wagged his tail when he sniffed her operation scar for the first time.  Maureen feels that she owes her life to Max.  His behaviour led to her finding the lump and his persistence convinced her to take prompt action.

Maureen is now a supporter of Cancer Bio detection Dogs who train dogs to work within the medical profession.   The charity is now expanding their team of dog detectives to include dogs that can ‘sniff out’ other types of malignant tumours such as found in skin and prostate cancer.

Elizabeth Wilkinson and her Bedlington-Whippet cross, Chushla


Chushla was only ten weeks old when Elizabeth Wilkinson realised that her new puppy could detect the start of a hypoglycaemic attack.  Elizabeth was suffering badly from these attacks when she first acquired Chushla and would cuddle her for comfort.  She believes that her cuddles triggered the mothering instinct in the pup for Chushla would frantically nibble at her neck when she was suffering the onset of hypoglycaemia. 

Elizabeth contacted Cancer Bio detection Dogs, who specialise in training diabetic assistance dogs, and they were able to help Elizabeth transform Cushla into a fully fledged hypo alert dog.  After further training she was able to detect hyperglycaemic attacks just as accurately and now proudly wears her official ‘uniform’ to prove her status as a Cancer Bio detection dog.

Chushla was not Elizabeth’s first experience of a dog that could detect low blood sugar.  She recalls Alfie who was the family dog when she was a child alerting both her and her mother to the onset of an attack either by barking in the night or raising his paw. 

Elizabeth is out of paid employment due to her illness but now she has Chushla to care for her, she knows that her health will not be a problem.  She is seeking employment that would involve researching and report writing for pilot studies, initial analysis or research for pre-trial work.

She currently works voluntarily for the Citizens Advice Bureau as a Social Policy Co-ordinator where she collates enquiries and compiles reports used by policy makers at local and National levels.

Karen and her chocolate Labrador Coco


Karen Ruddleston is the proud owner of the first ever dog used for the detection of low cortisol levels in a patient suffering Addison’s Disease.

Addison’s disease causes the adrenal glands to malfunction and therefore not enough steroid hormone (cortisol) is produced for the body to function normally.  In Karen’s case, her condition was exacerbated when tumours were found on her adrenal glands and they had to be removed.  As a result she has no cortisol reserves in her body at all and relies totally on medication.

When cortisol levels drop there is very little time between feeling unwell to being in a critical state, which meant that Karen was a virtual prisoner in her own home being fearful of having an attack when out.  Understandably this condition caused Karen to suffer from an extreme lack of confidence.

Karen had heard about Cancer Bio detection Dogs and their work with Diabetics and wondered if a dog could be trained to help people with Addison’s disease.  This would be a ground-breaking achievement but Claire Guest, director of training was only too pleased to take up the challenge.

Within a year Karen could depend totally on her chocolate Labrador, Coco who not only reliably and persistently alerts Karen to low hormone levels prior to crisis but has turned her life around completely. 

The most remarkable part of this story is that Coco at ten months old was looking for a new home when his owners found they could not cope with his boisterous temperament and independent personality.   Fortunately they had the insight to contact Cancer Bio detection dogs in the hope that Coco’s surplus energy could be put to good use.  Since that time Coco has not looked back and was this year’s nominee for ‘Friends for Life’ at Crufts. 

For more about this story click the highlighted title ‘Karen and Coco’s story’ in ‘Special Human Dog Relationships.’

The Sniff For Life Campaign

Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs working alongside the medical profession have the ability to save thousands of lives as well as taking the strain from the over-stretched NHS resources.

Potential Cancer and Bio dogs are donated by breeders and welfare charities.  These dogs and puppies are assessed according to their ability which allows for many different breeds to be used. 

There is an ever increasing demand for ‘alert dogs’ and Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs are hoping to raise enough money to train at least 50 more dogs within the next three years. 

In order to raise these much needed funds, Cancer and Bio-detection dogs have launched the Sniff For Life Campaign.

How You Can Help

Sponsor a Puppy

By sponsoring a puppy you help support their care and training which enables them to change and save lives.  Sponsor forms can be downloaded from the website links given at the bottom of the page.

Make a Gift to Cancer Bio-detection Dogs

Any gift is welcome so whether you can afford £10 or £250 you will be helping to save lives.

Fundraising can also be a great way to bring people together, of having fun and making a difference at the same time.   There are many ways in which people can raise money for ‘Sniff For Life’.  Here’s a few more ideas.

Coffee mornings
Invite friends and neighbours round for coffee and cakes and charge a small fee.  This could be combined with a raffle or a book sale, etc.

Dinner Party
One for the culinary experts!  Invite friends to an evening of delicious food and wine.  Your guests will enjoy your food and be happy to make a donation at the same time. You could make it a themed evening or a murder mystery party.

Give It Up

Sponsor members of the family to give up their worst habits for a week or more.  Each time they forget, they pay a fine. 

Have a ‘Pound for Paws’Day

Ask all your colleagues at work to bring a pound to work in aid of charity.  Collect and send to ‘Sniff for Life’

Dress Down Day

Friday is a great day to dress down but make sure everyone knows when you are going to hold it! They should wear casual clothes or even fancy dress.  Ask each person who takes part to make a contribution.

Non-Uniform Day

Many schools hold these to raise money for charity.  Ask your local schools to hold a non-uniform day with maybe a ‘doggie’ theme to raise funds for Cancer Bio detection Dogs.  Each child pays 50p to £1 for the privilege.

Cake Sale
Ask local schools to have a cake sale one day after school.  Each child donates cakes and sells them to raise money.

Sponsored Walk
All you need to organise a sponsor walk is a nice location and some enthusiastic walkers. You could charge an entrance fee or those taking part could get sponsorship per mile.

Dog Walk
Organise a group dog walk where you are sponsored or charge an entrance fee for participants and their owners.  It could be combined with a treasure hunt along the way!

Cancer Bio- detection Dogs is an incredibly worthy cause.  By joining the ‘Sniff For Life’ campaign your support will help to release people from the chains of life-threatening disease and will ensure that the dogs that are trained will lead happy and active lives while usually their potential to the full.

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