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Cornell researchers find new links between dogs’ smell and vision

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Pip Johnson
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."

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

This is the first-ever 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 to the Cornell Chronicle

The Johnson Lab is focused primarily on developing advanced neuroimaging methods in veterinary science. They apply cutting-edge magnetic resonance imaging (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 dog, cat and horse.

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Pip Johnson
Johnson and her team 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.

We’re joined by the study’s lead author to learn more about how this research was conducted and its implications for veterinary medicine.


  • Pip Johnson, Assistant Professor Diagnostic Imagining Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and senior author of “Extensive Connections of the Canine Olfactory Pathway Revealed by Tractography and Dissection”

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