Sit. Stay. Heal. Dogs Take on Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

Dogs have been helping humans for centuries. As early as the mid-1700s, dogs were being used by the blind as guides. In 1929, The Seeing Eye, the first guide dog school for the blind opened in America. Dogs, by nature, want to help. Today, there are epilepsy assistant dogs, dogs that can sense insulin levels for people with type 1 diabetes, and canine companions for people with depression.
Now, people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have their dog days, too. In fact, dogs may be able to accomplish something that has evaded modern science and medicine: detection of Parkinson’s.

Lisa Holt, founder of Parkinson’s Alert Dogs in San Juan, is doing more than teaching mutts to open doors and provide companionship. She’s actually teaching them to detect PD.  Even before symptoms are visible, people with PD secrete a hormone called sebum. With their super-sensitive snouts, dogs can smell sebum whereas humans cannot.

In the past 16 months, Holt has run more than 8000 tests using nine dogs. So far, the training has had an 85-95% success rate.

At present, there is no test for Parkinson’s disease.

Its diagnosis can take months or years as early symptoms may be similar to other conditions. If the theory holds, these dogs could provide a means of detecting PD that all the technology and advances in clinical testing have failed to provide.

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s, early detection can be beneficial to people with this progressive neuro-muscular disease.

Diagnosis provides patients with the opportunity to seek medical intervention, as well as making lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, that may slow the disease’s progression. With an estimated 60,000 Americans diagnosed annually with PD, sniffing out this debilitating illness could make a big impact on how this disease is treated.

To see these wonder dogs in action, like them on Facebook.

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