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It Just Makes Scents

A dog’s strongest sense is his sense of smell. Dogs can detect odors buried 40 feet underground, find hidden bombs, and even sniff out illness or disease. Given all of this amazing ability, why do we never wonder how scents in the environment might be affecting our dogs?

Maybe I’m more sensitive to the issue than most because I’m more sensitive to odors in the environment than most. Remember those women who would lurk in department stores just waiting to spray some unsuspecting shopper with the latest perfume? One whiff and I’d end up with a crushing headache that would last the entire day. The same thing happens when I encounter any strong chemical. At my house, we switched long ago to natural cleaners. (It was either that or buy stock in Excedrin.) I often wonder if my dogs are the better for it.

Try as I might, I have not been able to find much research into dogs and headaches. But dogs have many of the same neural pathways as humans, and some vets believe that headaches are possible in dogs. Tim Bentley, Associate Professor of Veterinary Neurology & Neurosurgery at Purdue, states that he does believe that dogs get headaches, but since a neurological examination would not reveal any abnormalities, “…it would be really hard for us to prove that an otherwise normal dog did or did not have a headache.” He, like most other veterinarians, recommends that if your dog seems uncomfortable and sensitive in the head area, a vet visit is in order. But other than doing an MRI and possibly finding a brain tumor, I’m unclear as to what might be revealed, since accurately diagnosing a canine headache seems almost impossible.

Getting back to my original point about scent, in most homes, typical commercial cleaners that contain multiple chemicals are used without a second thought. If it gets the carpets clean or keeps the windows sparkling, who cares? But when a dog has become more irritable or reactive than usual, along with other factors, shouldn’t we consider the possibility that a new chemical or potentially irritating scent might have been introduced into the environment? We know that certain scents can be relaxing for dogs. So why not the opposite? Odors and chemicals and their possible effects on dogs are not normally on the radar in a behavioral evaluation. Personally, I do inquire about this sort of thing with my clients. Was a chemical recently sprayed on the grass, or even on the next-door neighbor’s grass? Did the owners switch to a new cleaning product? Was the dog’s bedding washed with a different brand of detergent? These are all things I believe should be considered, along with other potential environmental stressors. It just makes scents.

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