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Commonly Asked Questions

Why use dogs for detecting Parkinson’s?

Currently, there is no definitive medical screening tool for diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease in living patients. In October of 2015, it was reported, and later confirmed by the University of Edinburgh, that a nurse could detect a scent coming from Parkinson’s Disease patients. It makes sense that if a human can detect Parkinson’s by smell, then a dog could certainly detect the odor, and quite possibly at an earlier stage of the disease. It is not known exactly how superior a dog’s sense of odor detection is when compared to that of a human’s, but it is reported to be anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute. Additionally, dogs are much more versatile, available, less expensive to operate and more selectively effective at detecting volatile organic compounds (odorant molecules) and volatilomes (scent signatures) than laboratory equipment.


For more information:

The woman who can smell Parkinson’s disease by Elizabeth Quigley, BBC Scotland News


NOVA-/Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell


Canine Detection of the Volatilome: A Review of Implications for Pathogen and Disease Detection Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 2016, June 24

What benefit is to be gained by the early detection of Parkinson’s?

Early detection would allow symptoms of this debilitating and costly disease to be treated before they become life changing and life threatening.  Patients would be able to make early use of the support, guidance, treatment and therapy care that can lead to significantly increasing the length of a quality life. In Parkinson’s, clinical trials suggest that early treatment can slow the progression of the symptoms of the disease.


For more information:

The Value of Early Diagnosis and Treatment in Parkinson’s Disease, The London School of Economics and Political Science, March 2016 (available as a PDF through Google search.)


How would PADs contribute to a medical diagnosis of Parkinson's?

Today, most Parkinson’s patients are diagnosed at a late stage of the disease when motor skills become adversely affected by Parkinson’s. Prior to this stage, there are as many as10 non-motor-function symptoms. PADs could provide a valuable screening tool for patients who present with these early symptoms. Additionally, some Parkinson’s patients show evidence of a genetic marker in certain ethnic groups. PADs could provide an assessment tool for identifying related individuals with evidence of this marker.


For more information:

National Parkinson Foundation, 10 Early Warning Signs of Parkinson’s Disease


Learning About Parkinson’s Disease-National Human Genome Research Institute


Are dogs used in other diseases as a supporting medical diagnostic tool?


Today, dogs are successfully used to assist insulin-dependent diabetics by detecting and alerting their owners when glucose levels are trending towards too low or too high. Diabetes Alert Dogs are proven to notify their owners 15-30 minutes in advance of notification from a wearable electronic glucose monitoring unit. Dogs can also identify several types of cancer, including lung, ovarian, bowel, bladder, skin and prostate cancers with higher than 95% accuracy. Dogs have been proven to identify some cancers at Stage 0, and in situ.  Additionally, dogs are now being used to alert humans in advance of an impending migraine; onset of narcolepsy; and at the early onset of an epileptic episode; and even when a stress or hyperactive disorder is causing a chemical change in the human body, signifying an approaching seizure or episode. Some of the the newer applications for dogs in the medical detection community include the detection of malaria-carriers at points-of-entry, such as airports, and also the bacteria, Clostridium-difficile, or C-diff, in patient care facilities.


For more information:

Training Your Diabetic Alert Dog by Rita Martinez


Dogs Naturally Magazine, Can Dogs Sniff Out Cancer


Mother nature network, 6 medical conditions that dogs can sniff out


How do PADs identify people with Parkinson’s?

PADs are trained to alert when presented with 100% cotton T-shirts worn by Parkinson’s sample donor patients.  The T-shirts are all purchased, prewashed and packaged in a controlled manner, then distributed in equal numbers to Parkinson’s and non-Parkinson’s donors. Once worn, the T-shirts are packed into an airtight stainless-steel canister (also supplied by PADs for Parkinson’s.) The canisters are collected and stored in a controlled environment. The dogs sniff the open canisters.


For more information:

Lisa Holt, CNWI, PADs for Parkinson’s, June 2017


Why use T-shirts?

In the Joy Milne study, Ms. Milne could detect the scent of Parkinson’s from the back, or neck area, of a shirt worn by the Parkinson’s patient.  Since 100% cotton shirts provide an optimum fabric surface area for capturing odorant molecules, PADs supplies 100% cotton T-shirts, which are then worn overnight by a donor, as a training aid for the dogs.  If you were to obtain a cotton T-shirt from a cigarette-smoker, you would have difficulty in removing the smoke smell, even after multiple washings.


For more information:

A preliminary identification and determination of characteristic volatile organic compounds from cotton, polyester and terry


Update, Joy Milne study, 2017

Why not have the dogs sniff people directly?

The answer is multifold. Since Parkinson’s has no definitive diagnosis, it is important that a high number of dogs are maintained and used for screening. No single person should be content with either a positive or negative assessment by one dog. The accuracy rating of a canine sniffing result is much higher when provided as a consensus by multiple dogs. It is much easier, effective, and sensible to bring one donor sample to ten dogs, rather than bringing ten dogs to one patient. Additionally, PADs work under a controlled and consistent environment which helps to eliminate distractive issues common to dogs. Finally, by using controlled donor samples in tightly packed airtight canisters, the probable issue of additional odors (or “background noise”) is reduced, helping to increase the accuracy of the dogs.


For more information:

Lisa Holt, CNWI, PADs for Parkinson’s, June 18, 2017


Can any dog be a PAD?

All dogs have an amazing sense of smell, so yes, in theory, any dog can be a PAD. However, successful sniffer dogs are usually exceptionally high-drive, and display an ability to work independently of human prompts.


For more information,

Lisa Holt, CNWI, PADs for Parkinson’s, June 18, 2017


Could the dogs be alerting on the drug, Levodopa, commonly prescribed for Parkinson’s patients, rather than Parkinson’s Disease?

During Phase 1 of the project, the dogs were exposed to samples from Parkinson’s patients using the drug Levodopa (L-Dopa) and those who were not using L-Dopa. During final testing of Phase 1, the dogs tested between 96% and 98% correct in their ability to detect Parkinson’s in a sample from a unique PD donor not using L-Dopa. No discernable difference in canine detection of Parkinson’s could be determined between Parkinson’s donors using the drug, Levodopa, and those who were not.


Data collected from testing phase, Phase 1, May 2016, PADs for Parkinson’s


For more information:

L-dopa and the secretion of sebum in Parkinson’s Patients


How many Parkinson’s sample donors have been used as training aids to date?

The first-year dogs have been exposed to more than 50 unique PD donors. The second and third-year dogs have been exposed to more than 100 unique PD donors.  Additionally, the first-year dogs have worked as many as 100 individual days and participated in more than 400 rounds of training. The second and third-year dogs have worked over 300 individual days participated in more than 750 rounds of training.


Data collected from canine training log, August 15, 2019, PADs for Parkinson’s.


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