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  • Dr. Liz Bales

Dogs Detecting COVID19 in People

Could dogs be the key to getting back to our new normal? We are nearing the end of five weeks of a nationwide shutdown in America. Over 45,000 American lives have been lost to COVID19. We know how dangerous this virus is, and there is no vaccine or proven effective treatment in sight. In the face of this truth, we are desperate to open our economy and get back to work to prevent a global economic crisis. But how? Identifying people sick with or shedding the virus and quarantining them may be the way to a new normal. But, testing has proven very difficult. There are accuracy problems, and testing supplies are scarce. Could dogs be the answer to our problems?

Dogs have been trained to sniff out everything from bombs and drugs, to cancer and even an oncoming seizure in epilepsy patients. If COVID19 has a specific odor or our body’s response to the infection has a specific odor, dogs can be trained to identify it and communicate to us that it is there. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is working on this right now. If successful, dogs may be able to screen between 250 - 750 people an hour. The dogs would make their diagnosis and then those people could be tested for the virus. This could be extremely helpful at airports, and any other public spaces.

In many other diseases, the dogs are more accurate than scientific tests. So, how do they do it? Dog’s noses have up to 300 million smell receptors and 35% of their brain is devoted to the analysis of smells. Comparatively, human noses only have six million receptors and devote a mere 5 % of their brain to tscent analysis. So, if you can smell vanilla extract by waving your nose over the bottle, your dog could smell and identify it if you put a single drop into 20 Olympic sized swimming pools.

Almost all dogs have this ability. But, when scent detection becomes a job to not only detect the smell but to be able to communicate that to people, some dogs are better than others. How do you think your dog would do?

You can hone your dog’s scent detection skills at home! “Nose work” is a great way to entertain your dog, and make use of those Amazon boxes! Place open cardboard boxes around the room. Put your dog’s favorite treat in one of the boxes. Bring your dog to the room and give them another treat, so they will know what they are searching for. Then, let the games begin! Let your dog go and explore until they find the treat. Eventually, you will be able to rub the treat on a cloth or even freeze it into an ice cube and your dog should be able to find it.

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