These Dogs Are Being Trained to Sniff Out COVID-19


There are a number of experimental projects happening right now, ranging from testing kits to medication to vaccines, but this one might be the furriest one yet: medical detection dogs trained to sniff out COVID-19.

The British charity Medical Detection Dogs is working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University to determine whether dogs can smell out individuals with the disease.

There’s already ongoing research on dogs’ keen abilities to sniff out diseases like cancer, malaria, and Parkinson’s. Dogs have about 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses (50 times more than humans) and their brains are hardwired to analyze smells (40 times more than human brains).  

The charity and the scientists both hope that this project can contribute to the country’s mass testing system as the dogs might even be able to sniff out those who are asymptomatic. According to the head of Medical Detection Dogs, trained dogs are capable of “sniff testing” up to 750 people per hour.

Now that’s a good dog.

“We believe dogs can detect COVID-19 and will be able to screen hundreds of people very, very rapidly, so we know who needs to be tested and isolated,” said Claire Guest, CEO of the charity. “We have evidence that dogs can detect bacteria and other diseases, and so believe that taking this project forward will make a huge difference to the ability to control the COVID-19 spread. “


"It's early days for COVID-19 odor detection. We do not know if COVID-19 has a specific odor yet, but we know that other respiratory diseases change our body odor so there is a chance that it does. And if it does, dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionize our response to COVID-19,” said professor James Logan, head of the disease control department in LSHTM.

If the project proves successful, these smart sniffing dogs could help flatten the curve and prevent a second surge from happening. The team has plans to deploy the dogs toward the end of the pandemic at airports and public spaces to curb chances of COVID-19's reemergence. 

However, the charity hasn’t disclosed yet how they plan to prevent the dogs from catching a mild case of the disease themselves. While a handful of pets have contracted a mild form of the virus abroad, no pet has died from it yet, and although these pets got the virus from their owners, there is no evidence of animal-to-human transmission. 

The team has already established a shortlist of six brave doggos ready to be assessed and trained to sniff out COVID-19. First up is Norman, who the charity says takes his job very, very seriously. The others in the pack include Digby, Storm, Star, Jasper, and Asher—all of whom reportedly love snuggles very much.

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These brave boys deserve all the treats.

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Anri Ichimura
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