Four-Legged Heroes: Dangers for Search-and-Rescue Dogs


Long-term health issues developed from a disaster site are a serious concern for the partners of search-and-rescue dogs. Airborne toxins are just as damaging to dogs as they are to humans. Since the life span of a canine is on average twelve years, incubation and development of health conditions resulting from toxic exposure occurs more rapidly than in humans. Many serious human health conditions from toxin exposure can replicate in dogs.


As with asbestos exposure, possibly one of the most deadly toxins found at a disaster site, the incubation period of mesothelioma for humans can take as long as twenty-years, where, in dogs, can take as little as eighteen months for symptoms to present. All types of mesothelioma have been found in dogs exposed to chronic, high-levels of asbestos particles. During catastrophic disasters, many search-and-rescue dog teams work for lengthy periods, increasing their exposure to toxins.


When dogs develop mesothelioma, it is typically though inhalation of particles rather than ingestion. However, many dogs may accidentally ingest asbestos or other damaging particles from licking their noses, legs or paws.


Many other equally deadly diseases can develop in search-and-rescue dogs from any level of toxic exposure at disaster sites, including respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. Again, with mesothelioma, the gestation period for these diseases is quicker than in humans, and may present immediately or several months after exposure.


Sadly, many human partners of search-and-rescue dogs may use their dogs’ health as a marker for their own potential development of later health issues.


As long as there are disasters, using search-and-rescue dogs will be a critical part of saving lives. Though their human partners take incredible care of their furry companions, avoiding all potential health hazards at a disaster site simply may be impossible.


Image: Andrea Booher/FEMA