Sniffing out Parkinson’s

Specially trained dogs could offer early detection of Parkinson's Disease, helping patients before too much damage is done.

(KING) Rowan, a 5-year-old Goldendoodle, doesn’t know it, but she’s on the trail of groundbreaking field work that could change the lives of countless people around the world.

Her owner, Carolyn Haugen, couldn’t be more proud. “It’s very heartwarming,” she said. “I’m happy she can be a part of it.”

Inside a small trailer at Washington’s San Juan County Fairgrounds in Friday Harbor, Rowan and eight other dogs are learning to do things doctors can’t even do right now.

They’re learning to sniff out and detect Parkinson’s disease. It’s a sort of med school for mutts.

“I could actually start crying when I think about it,” said Lisa Holt, founder of Parkinson’s Alert Dogs (PADs). “It’s amazing to us. It’s just amazing.”

Holt is a dog trainer and certified instructor who specializes in teaching dogs to follow scents.

She is leading what is believed to be the only training of this kind in the United States. Dogs are being taught to smell otherwise undetectable traces of Parkinson’s disease.

It’s done essentially the same way experts teach dogs to detect drugs and other diseases.

“They’re proven to detect insulin levels, three to four different kinds of cancers. It’s not crazy stuff at all,” said Holt.

One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is a secretion through the skin called sebum found around the face and neck. People can’t usually smell it, but dogs with senses of smell up to 100,000 times stronger than those of humans can.

By the time most people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it’s too late to turn it around. So, man’s best friend might be man’s best hope to detect the disease before it does too much damage.

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