We all know that dogs have a keen sense of smell, but did you know that dogs have been trained to sniff out the COVID-19 virus in humans? That is right, dogs can be trained to sniff out the virus in humans and possibly more accurately than manmade COVID-19 tests. These dogs are called Detection dogs or Sniffer dogs.
Sniffer dogs have been utilized by many organizations for an exceptionally long time. In fact, Sniffer dogs (although they did not have this name at the time), were trained to sniff out bombs in the 1940’s. In fact, you could look all the way back to 1888 when bloodhounds were used in an attempt to find Jack the Ripper. These bloodhounds were, of course, unsuccessful. However, it goes to show how long we have been using Sniffer dogs.
Today, Sniffer dogs are utilized to detect narcotics, explosives, wildlife scat, blood, contraband, and diseases. Dogs have been trained to be a source of early cancer detection since the 1980’s. Dogs keen sense of smell can distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous cells. Yes, they smell different and even though we humans cannot smell the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells early on, our canine companions can indeed smell the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells early on, before cancer symptoms present themselves. The dogs are trained to recognize the scent through saliva, plasma, urine, and even through the breath of a person with cancer. This is a particularly important and useful tool because the dogs can detect cancer far before a person begins to display symptoms.
Similar to how dogs are trained to detect cancerous cells in humans, dogs are now being trained to detect SARS-CoV-2 in humans using saliva and respiratory secretions. I do not need to tell you how paramount this is in light of the current pandemic. Not only can dogs sniff this out, but studies have also found a 94% detection rate from these Sniffer dogs.
With all the talk of fast and reliable testing, the hope is that we could put these Sniffer dogs to good use and train more dogs to detect SARS-CoV-2 particularly in the asymptomatic community. It is still not clear whether humans can pass SARS-CoV-2 to dogs or whether dogs can transmit SARS-CoV-2 to humans. The CDC does state that “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to people.” I believe that more studies are needed on this subject matter. However, if we do find that there is little to no transmission rate, what a great use of our canine companions’ keen sense of smell!