Sniffer dogs detect COVID-19 with high accuracy, hopes to replace invasive screening tests, study finds

For decades, dogs have been trained to sniff out illegal drugs, explosives and even people, but now a new study has put canines' sniffers to the test to see if they can detect COVID-19.

A team of researchers have trained dogs to sniff out COVID in a matter of seconds as a cheaper, more efficient way to screen during the pandemic.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found after two months of training on COVID-19 scent samples in the laboratory, the dogs were able to identify the virus with greater than 95 percent accuracy.

The dogs were then tested in detecting COVID in real people by sniffing the ankles and feet of volunteer students. 

The dogs underwent 50 visits conducted at 27 schools, completing more than 3500 screenings. Students were then tested for the virus using lateral flow testing to determine whether the dog's nose had accurately picked up the virus.

The study said they were 83 percent accurate at identifying COVID-19-positive students, and 90 percent on the mark at picking out virus-negative students.

"The goal is for dogs to perform large-scale VOC screening with antigen testing being performed only on persons with positive dog screening results, thereby reducing antigen tests performed by approximately 85 percent," the study said. 

"While modifications are needed before widespread implementation, this study supports use of dogs for efficient and noninvasive COVID-19 screening and could be used for other pathogens."

Miami International Airport Tests Use Of COVID-19 Detecting Dogs.
Miami International Airport Tests Use Of COVID-19 Detecting Dogs. Photo credit: Getty Images

Previous studies around the world have also highlighted this canine skill. A study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine last year found dogs could identify the odour of COVID-19 from a small piece of sock worn by an individual suffering from the virus with up to 94 percent accuracy.

Dogs have also been using their powerful noses to detect other diseases such as cancer with shockingly high accuracy. 

The next step for the COVID-19 dog screening pilot program is to implement the approach in nursing home settings.