Dogs Can Detect Heat With Their Noses, Research Finds

Close up of a dog's nose.

We all know how great a dog’s nose really is. Besides being able to detect that fallen Cheeto beneath the sofa, a dog’s nose can be trained to detect explosives, drugs, cancer, cadavers, etc. There truly is no limit on the power of a dog’s nose, and now scientists are proving that once again by showing that a dog’s nose can actually detect weak thermal radiation!


Heat Sensors

As Science explains, there are only a handful of animals who have this sensory gift, such as black fire beetles, a number of snakes, and the common vampire bat. Dogs being able to sense heat means they’re the second mammal to make the list – and the ones already on the list are believed to use that ability to enhance their hunting.

An ethologist who is an expert on canine sniffing and also a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Marc Bekoff, said, “It’s a fascinating discovery. [It] provides yet another window into the sensory worlds of dogs’ highly evolved cold noses.”

Breaking down the anatomy of a dog’s nose, we know that the smooth skin is called the rhinarium. Since a dog’s rhinarium is more densely packed with nerve endings, yet moist enough to stay under the ambient temperature, it creates the perfect catalyst for them to be able to detect rises in temperature. Researchers at Lund University and Eötvös Loránd University managed to prove this theory by studying three dogs and giving each dog a choice between an object heated to around 87.8 degrees and a room-temperature object.

It turned out, that every single one of the three dogs “sniffed out” the warmer objects. And there was absolutely no distinguishable difference between the objects in terms of smell or appearance.

There was another study that involved 13 dogs, where scientists presented the dogs with varying degrees of temperatures while focusing on a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner on the dogs’ brains. Again, in every case, it was found that the brain region associated with processing signals given by the nose, would light up every time a dog sensed a warm object.

There is a theory that this trait may have possibly been more pronounced in the domestic dog’s ancestral grey wolf – from which they evolved.

Gary Settles, Emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Gary Settles, revealed to Science, “The study is consistent with other research that describes the combined dog nose and brain as a sophisticated platform for processing a broad range of signals.”

There is still more to learn about this superpower, like how far does the thermal radiation detection reach on dogs? Regardless, it’s clearly a stepping stone for new areas of study.

What do you guys think?

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