Dog Learning to Sniff for COVID-19


We know dogs can detect cancers and be trained to find explosives, and it’s nothing for dogs to even learn on their own to detect oncoming seizures among family members, so it’s no surprise that scientists in the UK are successfully training dogs to sniff out COVID-19.

Charity Medical Detection Dogs, based in Milton Keynes, is working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University on the project. According to the school’s release, Professor James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM and Director of Arthropod Control Product Test Centre, says: “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organization standards for a diagnostic.”

Researchers suggest the trained canines could supplement existing screening methods, triaging as many as 250 people an hour. For example, dogs may be used at airports, similar to how the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently uses Beagles. Still, no one is suggesting that in the U.S. dogs can possibly replace needed antibody testing.

Dr. Cynthia Otto at Penn Vet Working Dog Center is succeeding at training dogs to detect ovarian cancer. So far, the dogs are 99 percent accurate and able to screen potentially far earlier than current available testing for ovarian cancer. Sadly, mostly, by the time ovarian cancer is discovered currently symptoms have occurred – and by then patients are fighting an uphill battle. However, the idea of dogs detecting cancers isn’t that dogs will be exam rooms around the nation (though that would be nice), it’s that their abilities have begun to allow chemists and other scientists to create an efficient early blood test. That’s being done right now, for example, for ovarian cancer.

This entire program at Penn Vet is being supported by the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Darlene Arden Veterinary Outreach Program.

If you’re concerned about the safety of the dogs regarding COVID-19 – it seems clear that dogs aren’t going to get sick from COVID-19. So far, sadly, over two million people have become ill as a result of COVID-19 and that number doesn’t include people who are asymptomatic but are contagious (which potentially may be another million or more). Yet, so far, only two dogs have been identified as a “weak positive” and both in in Hong Kong. Neither dog became ill or proved to be infectious to people or to other animals.