Trained Dogs Can Identify COVID-19 Infections, Study Says

Carolyn Crist

July 30, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

After some training, dogs may be able to sniff out and identify people who are infected with the coronavirus, according to a new study published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.

Eight dogs, which are part of the German Armed Forces, were trained for a week to detect the virus in samples of saliva. Then they were given more than 1,000 infected and non-infected samples and were able to detect 94% of cases. They correctly identified 157 positive samples and 792 negative samples but missed 30 positive samples and gave false positives for 33 samples.

The study was a small pilot project tested by the German Armed Forces, the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover and the Hanover Medical School.

"We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed," Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, a professor at the veterinary university, said in a video.

"We think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell of the metabolic changes that occur in those patients," she said.

Trained dogs could be sent to airports, borders and sporting events to detect infections, according a news release about the study.

Now the researchers will train dogs to tell the difference between COVID-19 samples and other diseases such as the flu. Within the medical field, dogs have been trained to detect cancer, malaria and other bacterial and viral infections.

"Dog odor detection is far better than the general public can imagine," Esther Schalke, a dog trainer who works at the Bundeswehr School of Official Dogs in Ulmen, Germany, said in the statement. The eight dogs in this study were trained at Bundeswehr.

"Still, we were amazed at how quickly our dogs could be trained to recognize samples," she said.

SOURCES:

BMC Infectious Diseases, "Scent dog identification of samples from COVID-19 patients – a pilot study."

University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, "YouTube video, Diagnoses by dog noses."

University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, "Sniffing the corona diagnosis."

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