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Cornell researchers find new links between dogs’ smell and vision

Pip Johnson, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine and senior author of “Extensive Connections of the Canine Olfactory Pathway Revealed by Tractography and Dissection."
Pip Johnson
Pip Johnson, with the College of Veterinary Medicine, is senior author of the study “Extensive Connections of the Canine Olfactory Pathway Revealed by Tractography and Dissection."

A newly published study by researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University describes physical links between dogs’ smell and vision.

This is the first documentation that a dogs’ sense of smell is directly integrated with its visual cortex, shedding new light on how dogs — even those that are visually impaired — experience and navigate the world.

"It makes a ton of sense in dogs. When we walk into a room, we primarily use our vision to work out where the door is, who’s in the room, where the table is. Whereas in dogs, this study shows that olfaction is really integrated with vision in terms of how they learn about their environment and orient themselves in it," Pip Johnson, lead author of the study, tells the Cornell Chronicle

Researchers focused primarily on developing advanced neuroimaging methods in veterinary science. Researchers apply cutting-edge MRI techniques in the evaluation of the animal brain in order to advance the knowledge of neuroanatomy and neuropathology. In doing so, they aim to improve diagnosis and understanding of brain and spinal cord disease in the dogs, cats and horses.

dog mri brain scan
Pip Johnson
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Researchers performed MRI scans on 23 healthy dogs and used diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced neuroimaging technique, to locate the dog brain’s white matter pathways, the information highways of the brain. They found connections between the olfactory bulb and the limbic system and piriform lobe, where the brain processes memory and emotion, which are similar to those in humans, as well as never-documented connections to the spinal cord and the occipital lobe that are not found in humans.

The study is titled “Extensive Connections of the Canine Olfactory Pathway Revealed by Tractography and Dissection.”


Johnson, an assistant professor of diagnostic imagining at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, joins WGCU's Gulf Coast Life to discuss the research and its implications with veterinary medicine.

To hear the conversation, click on the Listen button above.

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Mike Kiniry is producer of Gulf Coast Live, and co-creator and host of the WGCU podcast Three Song Stories: Biography Through Music. He first joined the WGCU team in the summer of 2003 as an intern while studying Communication at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Tara Calligan