Research Suggests Dogs Can Detect COVID-19 Infections

A new collaborative study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Durham University, and the group Medical Detection Dogs, published on Sunday, indicates that dogs may help fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The scientists completed Phase 1 of a trial examining whether dogs might be able to smell and identify COVID-19 infection under controlled conditions. Under the Phase 1 trial, working dogs were trained to detect COVID-19 on pieces of clothing and masks. The researchers observed whether the dogs could distinguish between samples with positive and negative for the virus.

Phase 2 of the research will test the dogs’ detection abilities on infected people, not just samples of clothing. The results were published in a preprint study and have not yet been peer-reviewed.

The study involved six dogs with ages from four to six years old. The group was composed of Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, and Labrador breeds. The study concludes that after six to eight weeks of training, the dogs could pick up the scent of COVID-19.

“The results are extremely exciting,” said James Logan, a project lead on the study.

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The results showed that the dogs have a sensitivity rate of 82%-94% in successfully detecting the virus. The COVID-19 infection has a “distinct” scent when put under a chemical analysis. Researchers are working to identify the exact chemicals responsible for the odor.

“Dogs could detect Covid with incredible speed and accuracy,” Logan said — “even if a person was asymptomatic.”

A PCR test is still the “gold standard” for detecting COVID-19, says the proponents of the study, but suggest dogs could provide a quicker and easier way to screen for the virus in dense traffic areas.

“The other thing about dogs is that they would serve as a visual deterrent, so if people knew that dogs were going to be screening at the airport, it’s very likely that people would think twice about traveling if they were infected,” Logan said.