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Canine scent detection of canine cancer: a feasibility study

Authors Dorman DC, Foster ML, Fernhoff KE, Hess PR

Received 11 August 2017

Accepted for publication 8 September 2017

Published 26 October 2017 Volume 2017:8 Pages 69—76

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/VMRR.S148594

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Lucy Goodman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Young Lyoo


David C Dorman,1 Melanie L Foster,2 Katherine E Fernhoff,1 Paul R Hess2

1Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, 2Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA


Abstract: The scent detection prowess of dogs has prompted interest in their ability to detect cancer. The purpose of this study was to determine whether dogs could use olfactory cues to discriminate urine samples collected from dogs that did or did not have urinary tract transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), at a rate greater than chance. Dogs with previous scent training (n=4) were initially trained to distinguish between a single control and a single TCC-positive urine sample. All dogs acquired this task (mean =15±7.9 sessions; 20 trials/session). The next training phase used four additional control urine samples (n=5) while maintaining the one original TCC-positive urine sample. All dogs quickly acquired this task (mean =5.3±1.5 sessions). The last training phase used multiple control (n=4) and TCC-positive (n=6) urine samples to promote categorical training by the dogs. Only one dog was able to correctly distinguish multiple combinations of TCC-positive and control urine samples suggesting that it mastered categorical learning. The final study phase evaluated whether this dog would generalize this behavior to novel urine samples. However, during double-blind tests using two novel TCC-positive and six novel TCC-negative urine samples, this dog did not indicate canine TCC-positive cancer samples more frequently than expected by chance. Our study illustrates the need to consider canine olfactory memory and the use of double-blind methods to avoid erroneous conclusions regarding the ability of dogs to alert on specimens from canine cancer patients. Our results also suggest that sample storage, confounding odors, and other factors need to be considered in the design of future studies that evaluate the detection of canine cancers by scent detection dogs.

Keywords: urinary tract cancer, cancer detection dogs, cancer odor, olfactory memory, multiple sample learning

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