I have an older relative staying with my immediate family. At first he and our dog got along fine. It was when my relative became very ill and subsequently required temporary hospitalization when my dog started growling at him. I don’t know if the dog is picking up on some instability or something like that.

I don’t know if it matters but the dog’s breed is mixed but mostly a Golden Labrador and has been a wonderful family pet. The relative has late stage liver cirrhosis and many of the complications that come along with that type of disease.


Dogs rely insanely strongly on their sense of smell, including to identify people. When someone gets ill, depending on their disease, their odor becomes distinctly different. You may have heard of dogs sniffing out cancer etc. Unfortunately it is not unheard of that dogs behave differently around people who fall sick. Sometimes they become apathetic, sometimes more calm, sometimes they get aggressive. The exact reason is hard to pin down, but aggression is usually fear-based or territorial, so it may be confused by your family member smelling different or protective of its owners.

  • I agree with this. A garment that hasn't been washed (a gardening jacket, for example, or even some old shoes) might reassure the dog, since it will have the owner's 'old' smell. – Mick Nov 18 '17 at 19:14
  • Thanks for that answer. It makes sense. The dog's been better today but does seem to have a unique interest in my relative. – user135909 Nov 18 '17 at 22:56
  • There is even such a thing as 'cancer detection dogs' and 'diabetes detection dogs' as well as 'epilepsy detection dogs'. These are dogs that have been trained to pick up on these cues, and it could be the same cues - they're just really uncertain what they're 'sensing'. – Sobrique Nov 20 '17 at 13:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.