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Medical Technology Lags Behind Technology in General, but may Soon Catch up

The other night I assessed a critically ill elderly Sheltie. She had lost a tremendous amount of weight and she was too weak to stand...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Aug 20th 2008


The other night I assessed a critically ill elderly Sheltie. She had lost a tremendous amount of weight and she was too weak to stand up. She had not eaten for several days, but had been consuming excessive amounts of water for several weeks.

When I evaluated her mouth I noticed a strong odor. The odor was typical of dogs suffering from kidney failure. Because the dog’s history and symptoms were consistent with kidney failure, I strongly suspected that the dog’s kidneys were the source of her problems.

To prove it, I had to run blood tests. But there is a problem with blood tests: no animal enjoys having blood drawn.

That night I had an epiphany. Blood tests are barbaric, and they shouldn’t be necessary–at least not to diagnose kidney disease, diabetic ketosis, certain types of cancer, some infections and other diseases that cause labile (vaporizable) products to build up in the blood.

Any time a such products build up in the blood, they are released into the lungs and expelled when the animal breathes. The levels of these products can be measured in the breath. The levels in the breath can be used to calculate the levels in the blood.

This concept has been used for years by law enforcement agents. Breathalyzers measure alcohol in a person’s breath, then calculate blood alcohol concentrations.

So why can’t we stick a probe in front of a dog’s nose and determine whether she is in kidney failure? The technology has existed for years, but it hasn’t been put to use yet.

Fortunately, there is hope for the future. Researchers are working to develop instruments that will diagnose kidney disease, diabetes, liver problems, infections, some types of cancer and a large number of other medical conditions through non-invasive analysis of the breath, skin, saliva or sweat (cats and dogs produce sweat on their feet).

I am looking forward to the day when I can diagnose my patients’ problems without using needles. I hope that day comes soon.

Photo credit: moacirpdsp. Photo licensing information: CC.